Continuous learning can be an integral part of professional success, whether you’re a freelancer, entrepreneur or employee. But not everyone is able to focus on continuing his or her education. In my experience, the two most significant factors that prevent people from furthering their education are time and money.
Self-paced online training can make the time challenge a little easier because you can participate in the courses whenever you have time available, even if it’s only in small chunks at a time. And because you can do it online, you can skip over all of the obstacles that come from having to travel and schedule a certain slot of time in your schedule.
That leaves budgetary constraints. You can pay to access some phenomenal online training courses, but what if you simply don’t have the budget? I found four exceptional online training resources that provide free self-paced courses in a variety of areas.
HP Learning Center
The HP Learning Center has one of the most comprehensive collections of free self-paced online learning courses. The Center is broken down into “campuses” that include the following focus areas:
- Digital Photography – Focuses on taking and organizing photos, using Adobe Photoshop to optimize photos, scanning and troubleshooting.
- Home Office – Learn how to create marketing materials, networking tips, using technology and other home office topics.
- Microsoft Office and Adobe – Classes focus on how to get the most out of Microsoft Office and Adobe applications.
- PC Security and Maintenance – Focuses on the Windows operating system, protecting your PC and backing up data.
Each campus has a set of classes available that focus on the topic. Each class includes two to six lessons and may also include interactive demos, quizzes and assignments.
One really cool feature of the Center is that you can interact with your fellow students and instructor via the class message board. So while it’s self-paced and individual learning, you are not isolated and can benefit from group collaboration.
The HP Learning Center also has a series of short how-to videos (most 5 minutes or less) and quick lessons (approximately 20 minutes) for even the most time-challenged among us.
Kutztown Small Business Development Center
This development web site, provided by Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, has a growing collection of free online learning programs which focuses on entrepreneurial training. Their programs are a compilation of courses provided by the SBA, IRS, Small Biz U, Virtual Advisor and custom programs from the Pennsylvania SBDC Network.
The programs available fall in the following categories:
- Bilingual (English/Spanish)
- Business Operations and Management
- Business Planning
- International Business
- Management Development
- Small Business Tax
- Starting and Growing a Business
All of the courses, which also include voice-overs and several videos, are provided free, but the Center asks participants to answer a short survey after each course so they can continue to improve the program.
Microsoft Office Training
Microsoft’s online training portal has extensive tutorials on all of the Office 2007 and Office 2003 applications, from basic usage to more advanced training. The software covered includes:
- Live Meeting
- PerformancePoint Server
- SharePoint Server
The site also has downloadable training presentations, interactive guides, workbooks and program demos that can help you get more out of these everyday business applications.
SBA’s Small Business Training Network
The Small Business Administration has a series of short free self-paced courses created just for small business owners. Each course takes about 30 minutes to complete, so it’s easy to fit them into your schedule. Here is an outline of their current course offerings:
- Finance and Accounting – Focuses on the SBA’s loan programs, accounting, etc.
- Government Contracting – Learn how to take advantage of federal government contracting opportunities.
- Business Planning – What you need to know about business plans.
- Surviving a Slow Economy – Recession-busting lessons.
- Starting a Business – A variety of business basics.
- Marketing and Advertising – Strategic marketing advice and tips.
- Business Management – Focuses on technology, franchising, strategic planning, etc.
Many of the courses also have audio explanations and there are also links to videos and small business podcasts.
These free training resources are a great way to get started with online learning, while you save up for some of the more robust fee-based programs. Do you think you’ll give any of them a try?
Image credit: Ante Vekic