• Advice

Take your skills to the next level with online learning

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

Today, it’s not enough to be “just” a writer or a graphic artist.

Writers often need to know how to create infographics or edit photos. Graphic artists need to understand Web design. Classes are a convenient way to keep pace and expand your skill set.

Thankfully, nearly anything you need to learn is available online and on demand, at various skill levels and price points. Here’s an overview of seven online resources (in alphabetical order).


Coursera offers 1,800 courses from what it describes as, “World’s best universities and industry partners.” Founded in 2012, it’s is one of several Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), created to democratize education by making it accessible to all. While the value for certificate or degree programs has been debated, for creative professionals looking to fill gaps in knowledge or develop a cursory understanding of a topics, Coursera offers programs worth investigating.

Cost and other info:

  • Free access to video lectures and some assignments
  • Must pay for courses to earn a certificate
  • In 2016, they introduced a subscription model for access to “Specializations”—bundles of six to eight courses on a specific topic. Subscriptions cost $39-$89 per month.


The online learning company is connected to a network of more than 2,100 colleges and universities. They call themselves the industry leader in affordable online learning for adults, providing the “highest-quality continuing education. “

Classes cover a broad range of topics, from “Healthy Living Suite” to “Business and Marketing Writing.” Web Design is offered as a one-year, 330-hour course and costs $2,995, while a web design stand-alone course is priced at $390.

Cost and other info:

  • Classes start at $140
  • Bundled classes may offer a better value
  • Professional certification available
  • Regimented start dates

LinkedIn Learning and

LinkedIn describes its classes as “personalized eLearning for every employee; a data-driven platform for relevant skills development.” While the focus would seem to be on companies, they offer numerous topics for creative professionals.

LinkedIn bought in 2015, and has rebranded and integrated many classes into their site. You can still sign up for classes at Note: Microsoft purchased LinkedIn in 2016, so further changes may be coming.

If you’re new to freelancing, there’s a course in freelance fundamentals, which was last updated in 2013. “Content Marketing Fundamentals,” with more than 42,000 views, is a popular topic. Also popular: “Writing in Plain English” with nearly 35,000 views.

Cost and other info:

  • After a free 10-day trial, basic plans start at $24.99 per month for unlimited classes
  • Current Freelance Forum vice president Harry Hayes’s took several courses that helped him advance in his career. Click here to read the article.


Pluralsight offers more than 5,000 online courses including creative classes in 77 categories. They claim to update their course offering daily. Their website boasts: “Don’t just keep up with technology. Master it… The on-demand technology platform you count on to say relevant, with tools that measure your skills and solve your problems—faster.”

A free test measures your skills, identifies gaps in knowledge and recommends a path based on your results. Mentoring sessions are available via screen share, chat or video.


  • Free 10-day trial for up to 200 minutes
    Subscriptions cost $29 per month, $299 for one year

Shaw Academy

Based in Dublin, Ireland, Shaw Academy—and Wikipedia—claim it’s the world’s largest live online educator. It was created in partnership with companies involved in e-commerce and telecom, including Adobe, GoDaddy and Vodafone.

A point of difference is live, online teaching and human support. Their Slogan: “Master any Skill in 4 weeks with our Live Interactive Webinars!” and mission statement, “Our mission is simple, to educate everyone, everywhere. They offer more than 50 courses in 10 categories, including photography, design, marketing and language.


  • $39.95-49.95 per month
  • Caveat: Several sites had mixed reviews from former students who said they push lifetime membership and selling


Skillshare was recommended to me by an instructor at General Assembly in Atlanta. offers more than 14,000 video classes from “expert practitioners” with a focus on creative topics.

After registering through email or Facebook, you’re asked to choose three topics from creative, technology and business for a custom recommendation. This generates hundreds of specific courses and asks you to save three or more. Examples:

  • Photoshop Demystified: A Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting
  • Copywriting Basics for Successful Sales: Time-Tested Tactics that Prompt Action
  • InDesign in 30 Minutes: Recreate Your Favorite Magazine Layout
    Content Marketing: Create a One-Minute Video

It then takes you to your classes. For 30 days, you have unlimited access to more than 14,000 classes. On this screen, you can search for classes, skills and teachers.

Cost and other information:

  • $120/year
  • $18/month
  • Like to teach? According to Skillshare, teachers earn $3500 on average with the top making $30,000 or more per year.

With inspirational slogans, such as “Own your future by learning new skills online” and “What course will your life take,” Udemy offers more than 45,000 courses and has 15 million students. The pay-as-you-go model can be an affordable option to gain exposure to a topic without paying for more than you need.

Udemy is a program that allows entrepreneurs to create and sell courses. A search of “Udemy” generates more articles about teachers and how much they are paid vs. courses offered, and how to use it to gain visibility. When visitors sign up, Udemy takes a percentage.

Cost and other info:

  • Can also sign up for a free trial
  • $20 - $200 per course
  • Check for coupons and special offers
  • Way for sellers to create classes and sell their expertise
  • Udemy takes a percentage of class price
  • Piracy issues with course have been reported

No Excuses: Learning Options for Everyone

There are numerous options for online learning. While there are free alternatives such as YouTube videos, online courses offer the discipline and organization of real classes for a relatively small fee.

What classes have you taken classes from these or other online communities? How do they compare with in-person classes? Share your thoughts for a follow-up article.

Cheryl Syrett is a freelance marketing writer and editor. You may contact her at