Small business owners often feel like they need expertise not only in their core business area, but also in all aspects of running a successful company. Approaches to obtaining the skills necessary to run a successful small business range from engaging in prodigious amounts of independent reading, asking peers for advice, taking courses from experts, and perhaps even completing an MBA or other advanced degree.
Traditional structured learning via courses taught by experts can often be impractical for small business owners because it requires an inflexible time commitment. However, the growth of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) has changed all that. You can now take classes from experts and professors at top universities like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, for free, at your own pace, and on your own schedule. You can audit the courses by simply listening to the lectures. Or, you can become a true student by taking quizzes, handing in graded assignments, interacting with fellow students on discussion forums, taking a final exam, and receiving a grade for a certificate or even college credit.
There are a number of platforms for the MOOC, and courses are available from prestigious universities located through the world. You can view a full searchable list of MOOC offerings on the MOOC List website. You can search by subject category, date, language, sponsoring university, and platform.
The following are some platforms and courses that are ideal for small business owners:
Udacity was founded by Stanford University professors and grew out of an online learning experiment in which they made their “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course available online to anyone, for free. (You can still view the course here.) You can take any of the courses (which are slanted toward technology) on your own for free, or you can pay to subscribe to a course and get feedback on your work, a coach, and a certificate upon completion. Small business owners would benefit from the Intro to the Design of Everyday Things course which will provide you with the knowledge needed to start recognizing the role of design in today’s world, and to start making better design decisions in your own life.
edX started as a collaboration between Harvard and MIT to offer MOOCs, and has expanded to include courses from Berkley, the University of Texas, Georgetown and many others. Courses are available in a wide variety of subject categories across the sciences and humanities, including business and management. To help you get a feel for edX courses, check out the edX demo course which provides example lessons containing some of the tools used in courses such as videos, readings, interactive questions, laboratories, and simulators. Small business owners would benefit from the upcoming The Analytics Edge course which will, Through inspiring examples and stories, [help you] discover the power of data and use analytics to provide an edge to your career and your life.
Coursera is another platform that offers courses from multiple universities in a wide variety of subjects. The current catalog contains 591 courses from around the world (517 of them in English). Small Business Owners should definitely check out Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses, Part I, from The University of Virginia Darden School of Business. The course focuses on the common growth challenges faced by existing private businesses when they attempt to grow substantially.
You will need to provide your name and email address in order to register for any of these MOOC platforms and take classes. After that, your level of interaction with the site, the course, and other students, is entirely up to you.
In the words of Yogi Berra, Life is a learning experience, only if you learn. Make the time to take a class, or even just to listen to a single lecture. You can expand your current expertise, delve into a passion, or simply learn about a new subject or field.
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Image Credit: MOOC Poster (no border) by mathplourde, on Flickr.