By 
Yoshitaka Shiotsu
 | 
June 9, 2020
 | 
6 Min Read

Top Tools Freelancers Can Use To Keep Their Skills Fresh

Hiring managers have long known that the rapid pace of technological advancement creates knowledge gaps that increase over time. The half-life of a skill is five years. Retraining employees takes a lot of time and resources, and 3 out of 4 hiring managers aren’t fully convinced that it wouldn’t be more efficient to just engage freelancers who already have the skills they need. 

That’s good news for independent talent who are nearly twice as likely as employees to have completed skills training in the last 6 months. If you’re new to remote work and want to start freelancing, one of the first things you’ll have to learn is how to leverage online resources to continuously upskill and reskill to meet the demands of a rapidly changing work environment. 

In this article, we’re going to cover the basics of navigating the various resources that are available for your self education. Here are the top tools freelancers can use to keep their skills fresh.

Online course marketplaces

These online learning platforms are designed as marketplaces to attract students and instructors alike. You buy access to specific courses designed and hosted by individuals or instructors on an as-needed basis. Sometimes the courses are free but have perks related to paid tuition such as a certificate of completion. There are two major players in this space:

  • Udemy offers shorter courses on a wide range of topics that anyone can produce. Courses skew towards tech, but you can find courses on design and other creative topics.
  • Udacity offers Nanodegree programs in partnership with industry professionals and businesses to cover technology skills. 

On average, Udemy is more affordable and less of a time commitment. Since anyone can technically create a course, it’s important to vet the instructor before you buy. Udacity takes a stricter approach focusing on industry partnerships. These programs are longer time commitments and can get quite expensive, but you do get accreditation and quality instruction from industry professionals. 

Subscription-based e-learning platforms

Far more e-learning platforms seem to opt for the subscription model—pay a monthly fee to get access to thousands of courses. You could easily 10X this list, but these are some of the most popular. 

  • Skillshare is the cheapest, allows anyone to make a course, and caters towards creatives (e.g., graphic design, photography, writing). 
  • Pluralsight is priced competitively, partners with industry experts, and caters towards technology skills (e.g., software development, IT ops).
  • LinkedIn Learning covers a wider range of topics but also has more stringent requirements on the industry experts allowed to teach on the platform. It’s also the priciest.

While these subscription-based companies do charge for access, they also provide free course offerings with some restrictions. For example, Lynda actually allows you to access free video tutorials on all courses. You’ll have access to some content while others are grayed out until you sign up for a membership. 

MOOC platforms

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are online courses that are free for anyone to enroll. Everything is free and open, but  some let you pay for accreditation. MOOCs often partner with universities to host actual classes online. 

  • Khan Academy is a nonprofit that offers an impressive catalog of online video courses on their website and YouTube that are free for anyone to access. Their courses are structured like traditional academia, offering courses from preschool to college providing a school-like experience online. 
  • EdX started out as a partnership between MIT and Harvard to list their high quality college and graduate lessons online. They’ve now teamed up with hundreds of other Universities to provide college education for free. EdX offers the option to pay for accreditation via MicroMasters, professional certificates, and degrees. 
  • Coursera was founded by two Stanford computer science professors who wanted to create a network of open-access online courses. Coursera also partners with hundreds of universities to offer college courses online. Coursera offers the option to pay for accreditation in the form of professional certificates and degrees. 

It’s important to pay attention to certifications when paying for these otherwise free courses. Not all are the same level as actual degrees, even if the quality of the content in training you in a particular skill is still valuable. 

General online education

Beyond structured courses, much of a professional’s education is about Googling answers, crowdsourcing help, and finding niche resources. 

  • YouTube: The world’s most popular online video sharing platform happens to be a great source of educational content. You can find channels offering online courses in the form of structured playlists, tutorial videos, and reviews of new technologies. 
  • Quora: Got a question? Crowdsource an answer. Users can vote on the most relevant answers to questions covering a wide range of topics. Experts interested in building their own authority and thought leadership willingly answer questions on Quora for points. 
  • Stack Overflow: For developers and engineers, answering and asking questions on Stack Overflow is a rite of passage. Even if you never directly post to the site, chances are high a Google query will lead you to a solution on Stack Overflow to an obscure technical problem. 
  • Reddit: On the internet where everyone is trying to sell you something, Reddit can be a great place to get first-hand account information from real people. Skill-specific subreddits are a great place to find community resources, discussions, and trends. 

There are also plenty of online courses available on the web that aren’t affiliated with any particular e-learning platform. A great example of this is Codecademy, which offers a responsive IDE (interactive development environment) for learning the basics of different programming languages. 

The best freelancers are lifelong learners

There’s no question that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the workforce. According to Upwork’s 2020 Future Workforce Report, 39% of hiring managers have seen or expect layoffs at their organizations. They predict only 53% of laid off employees will be hired back. 

But it’s not all bad news: 2020 is also shaping up to be the year remote work went mainstream. Time Magazine is calling it “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment,” and businesses are starting to realize that remote work is working. 62% of hiring managers believe their workforces will be more remote than pre-pandemic estimates. 

It’s the acceleration of an ongoing trend in the future of work: remote work is rising to meet the growing demand for specialized skills and talent. 

With more and more people likely to turn to freelancing after the pandemic, competition is going to be fierce. Freelancers old and new will need to remember the importance of keeping their skills sharp and up to date in a rapidly shifting marketplace. 

In this article, we took a look at some of the most popular options that are out there for taking control of your own professional development as a freelancer. Whether you choose to self-educate through one-off YouTube videos, purchase individual courses on an e-learning marketplace, or keep your skills sharp by subscribing to an e-learning platform, continuous growth is the key to succeeding as an independent professional. 

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Top Tools Freelancers Can Use To Keep Their Skills Fresh

Yoshitaka Shiotsu
Full Stack Developer

Hiring managers have long known that the rapid pace of technological advancement creates knowledge gaps that increase over time. The half-life of a skill is five years. Retraining employees takes a lot of time and resources, and 3 out of 4 hiring managers aren’t fully convinced that it wouldn’t be more efficient to just engage freelancers who already have the skills they need. 

That’s good news for independent talent who are nearly twice as likely as employees to have completed skills training in the last 6 months. If you’re new to remote work and want to start freelancing, one of the first things you’ll have to learn is how to leverage online resources to continuously upskill and reskill to meet the demands of a rapidly changing work environment. 

In this article, we’re going to cover the basics of navigating the various resources that are available for your self education. Here are the top tools freelancers can use to keep their skills fresh.

Online course marketplaces

These online learning platforms are designed as marketplaces to attract students and instructors alike. You buy access to specific courses designed and hosted by individuals or instructors on an as-needed basis. Sometimes the courses are free but have perks related to paid tuition such as a certificate of completion. There are two major players in this space:

  • Udemy offers shorter courses on a wide range of topics that anyone can produce. Courses skew towards tech, but you can find courses on design and other creative topics.
  • Udacity offers Nanodegree programs in partnership with industry professionals and businesses to cover technology skills. 

On average, Udemy is more affordable and less of a time commitment. Since anyone can technically create a course, it’s important to vet the instructor before you buy. Udacity takes a stricter approach focusing on industry partnerships. These programs are longer time commitments and can get quite expensive, but you do get accreditation and quality instruction from industry professionals. 

Subscription-based e-learning platforms

Far more e-learning platforms seem to opt for the subscription model—pay a monthly fee to get access to thousands of courses. You could easily 10X this list, but these are some of the most popular. 

  • Skillshare is the cheapest, allows anyone to make a course, and caters towards creatives (e.g., graphic design, photography, writing). 
  • Pluralsight is priced competitively, partners with industry experts, and caters towards technology skills (e.g., software development, IT ops).
  • LinkedIn Learning covers a wider range of topics but also has more stringent requirements on the industry experts allowed to teach on the platform. It’s also the priciest.

While these subscription-based companies do charge for access, they also provide free course offerings with some restrictions. For example, Lynda actually allows you to access free video tutorials on all courses. You’ll have access to some content while others are grayed out until you sign up for a membership. 

MOOC platforms

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are online courses that are free for anyone to enroll. Everything is free and open, but  some let you pay for accreditation. MOOCs often partner with universities to host actual classes online. 

  • Khan Academy is a nonprofit that offers an impressive catalog of online video courses on their website and YouTube that are free for anyone to access. Their courses are structured like traditional academia, offering courses from preschool to college providing a school-like experience online. 
  • EdX started out as a partnership between MIT and Harvard to list their high quality college and graduate lessons online. They’ve now teamed up with hundreds of other Universities to provide college education for free. EdX offers the option to pay for accreditation via MicroMasters, professional certificates, and degrees. 
  • Coursera was founded by two Stanford computer science professors who wanted to create a network of open-access online courses. Coursera also partners with hundreds of universities to offer college courses online. Coursera offers the option to pay for accreditation in the form of professional certificates and degrees. 

It’s important to pay attention to certifications when paying for these otherwise free courses. Not all are the same level as actual degrees, even if the quality of the content in training you in a particular skill is still valuable. 

General online education

Beyond structured courses, much of a professional’s education is about Googling answers, crowdsourcing help, and finding niche resources. 

  • YouTube: The world’s most popular online video sharing platform happens to be a great source of educational content. You can find channels offering online courses in the form of structured playlists, tutorial videos, and reviews of new technologies. 
  • Quora: Got a question? Crowdsource an answer. Users can vote on the most relevant answers to questions covering a wide range of topics. Experts interested in building their own authority and thought leadership willingly answer questions on Quora for points. 
  • Stack Overflow: For developers and engineers, answering and asking questions on Stack Overflow is a rite of passage. Even if you never directly post to the site, chances are high a Google query will lead you to a solution on Stack Overflow to an obscure technical problem. 
  • Reddit: On the internet where everyone is trying to sell you something, Reddit can be a great place to get first-hand account information from real people. Skill-specific subreddits are a great place to find community resources, discussions, and trends. 

There are also plenty of online courses available on the web that aren’t affiliated with any particular e-learning platform. A great example of this is Codecademy, which offers a responsive IDE (interactive development environment) for learning the basics of different programming languages. 

The best freelancers are lifelong learners

There’s no question that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the workforce. According to Upwork’s 2020 Future Workforce Report, 39% of hiring managers have seen or expect layoffs at their organizations. They predict only 53% of laid off employees will be hired back. 

But it’s not all bad news: 2020 is also shaping up to be the year remote work went mainstream. Time Magazine is calling it “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment,” and businesses are starting to realize that remote work is working. 62% of hiring managers believe their workforces will be more remote than pre-pandemic estimates. 

It’s the acceleration of an ongoing trend in the future of work: remote work is rising to meet the growing demand for specialized skills and talent. 

With more and more people likely to turn to freelancing after the pandemic, competition is going to be fierce. Freelancers old and new will need to remember the importance of keeping their skills sharp and up to date in a rapidly shifting marketplace. 

In this article, we took a look at some of the most popular options that are out there for taking control of your own professional development as a freelancer. Whether you choose to self-educate through one-off YouTube videos, purchase individual courses on an e-learning marketplace, or keep your skills sharp by subscribing to an e-learning platform, continuous growth is the key to succeeding as an independent professional. 

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