How to go back to school–for free

Nov 5, 2018

I am going back to school. Well, not really, at least not in a conventional sense. I am, however, signed up to take a few courses that should not only enhance my business skills, but also provide me with an opportunity to better understand best practices, new trends, and the ever-changing world of entrepreneurship.

It all started a few weeks ago when we celebrated my mom's 80th birthday. As we wrapped up a weeklong celebration, we talked about her desires and fears about being an octogenarian. Almost every aspect of our conversation revolved around the importance of being a life-long learner. She even challenged me to go back to school.

At first, I dismissed her—I am schooled out. But shortly thereafter, I talked to a client, who is also an octogenarian, and what did our conversation revolve around? You guessed it—lifelong learning. Seeing this as an Alchemist-like sign, I figured that I shouldn’t ignore it.

Invest in lifelong learning

So, I did a simple Google search and after sifting through a spectrum of course offerings ranging from questionable online schools to reputable MBA programs with rigid prerequisites, I came across a jewel in the form of edX.

Founded in 2012, edX has been around for over 5 years. It is a MOOC, or massive open online course provider. The courses are marketed as being university level and they range in duration. Partnering with schools like UC Berkeley and Georgetown, edX offers a range of courses that one can select from.

Many of the courses are free if you opt to audit them. If you prefer to go the certification route, the prices seem reasonable, especially if you consider this expenditure as a worthwhile investment in yourself.

Topics range from writing and program management courses to doing business with emergent markets. There is even a section specifically for Business and Management. I found the courses to be intriguing and to be honest, overwhelming at first.

With over 444 courses in the Business and Management section alone, it may be time consuming sorting through them all. Thankfully, the site is user friendly and you can refine your search based upon criteria such as availability, subject matter, level and even language. Although some of the courses are set for certain time frames (e.g. May 2018), there are still plenty of courses available for this fall, winter and even some for next spring.

Additionally, it is worth noting that many of the courses are self-paced and they are taught by university professors. The self-paced model used for most of the edX courses makes it ideal for the freelancer who is short on time, but who still has a sincere desire to learn more about his/her craft or the industry.

For example, a course titled “Entrepreneurial Operations: Launch a Startup” is taught by an Assistant Professor from Babson University. The course is described as follows:

This startup operations course will examine the real-world operational challenges and execution risks associated with getting a new venture started. We will consider start-up ventures in a variety of industries. The course will provide you with a set of steps, frameworks, and tools that can be used to understand the important considerations for building a startup operation from scratch.

As someone who never attended business school and who learned about the business side of freelancing AFTER I started freelancing, this course sounds like it would be worthwhile.

And perhaps what is most beneficial about the edX course offerings is that the courses are diverse enough that they should appeal to a range of freelancers from neophytes to 30-year veterans. With no prerequisites, no GRE or GMAT, the courses truly are accessible; there is even an app so that you can take your classes on the go. This seems perfect for those of us who hope to absorb as much as we can in pursuit of entrepreneurial success.

I have registered for two courses; one starts in November and the other is self-paced. Hopefully, you will find a course that you like. If not right now then consider bookmarking an edX class for the future.

Tyra Seldon

Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.