5 cheap ways to learn new skills online

If you're stuck in a career rut and looking for a way to break into something more lucrative, the best way to learn from someone who already works in the field. Here are a few ways to become a marketable, hirable expert without going into debt.

Joe Shearer/The Daily Nonpareil/AP
A computer science classroom at Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Education is valuable, but does it have to be so expensive? According to the National Center of Education Statistics, the average two-year degree costs about $9,586 at a public institution, and four-year programs at public institutions averaged $18,632 for the 2014-2015 school year. That’s a lot of money, and it’s easy to understand why many are hesitant to take out student loans to cover the cost.

But career changes often require new skill sets and industry-specific knowledge. If you're stuck in a career rut and looking for a way to break into something more lucrative, the best way to learn is from someone who already works in the field. Here are a few ways to become a marketable, hirable expert – without going into debt.

Certifications

One way to cut education costs is to seek certifications instead of advanced degrees. Many technical positions only require a high school diploma, and IT certifications make job hunting much easier. CompTIA is a trade organization that offers credentials to skilled tech workers. For example, the CompTIA A+ certification shows off a person’s knowledge of IT fundamentals, and the organization’s Network+ certification does the same for network setup, management, and troubleshooting.

Tech workers could go to school to learn what they need to know to pass these tests, but they don't need to, because there are plenty of online resources where they can learn the same things for much less. Instead of spending more than $9,000 for a two-year degree (or several hundred for an in-person class at one of these institutions), consider taking an class online instead, at a website like...

Lynda

You don’t have to drop thousands of dollars to learn a new skill; sites like Lynda.com offer libraries of information to subscribers. Access to their library of more than 5,500 courses costs $24.99 per month (after a free 10-day trial). Premium access (which costs $34.99 per month) gives you the added ability to study offline and test your knowledge with quizzes and project files.

Online resource libraries like Lynda work best for people who want to learn a bunch of new skills. Want to learn graphic design? They have more than 600 classes for that. How about photography? They've got 1,700 courses to choose from. From B2B marketing to computer animation, once you subscribe, you have access to everything.

Udemy

Lynda has a big name, but it’s not the only resource for online learners. Udemy has an enormous library as well, and it can be more cost effective for people who want to target their learning with a single class. For example, this CompTIA A+ certification course costs just $15, and has more than 6,000 students enrolled. It includes 15 hours of on-demand video, 124 short lectures, and focuses specifically on material for the CompTIA 901 exam. The programs here aren’t sold on a subscription model. Once you enroll, you have access to the resources forever. The site also offers regular discounts. I’ve seen the enrollment fee for the CompTIA certification class drop as low as $10. Just look for Udemy coupon codes or deals to find out if there’s a sale going on.

I like Udemy because of the specific skills offered on the site. It feels like going to a friend and asking them to walk you through their expertise. For example, this Web Developer Bootcamp includes more than 40 hours of material designed to teach students how to create Javascript-based browser games. Others are very simple, like this Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy course, which includes just two hours of on-demand video and 38 short lectures.

Masterclass

While just about anybody can become an instructor on Udemy, some sites only offer programs from masters in their fields. If you’ve ever seen one of the videos at Masterclass.com, you’ll recognize some of the teachers right away. Deadmau5 teaches an EDM course, Gordon Ramsay teaches a cooking class, and Werner Herzog teaches an online filmmaking course. The instructors are famous experts in their field, and the prices start around $90.

Like Udemy, the courses at Masterclass are purchased one at a time. You enroll once, and you have access to the content for the rest of your life.

Other free online resources

Of course, you don’t have to pay to learn common skills. There are plenty of software tutorials available online, like these Photoshop videos on YouTube. Check out Blender.org for a free library of courses for more advanced concepts like 3D rendering.

The TED Talks site offers short conference-style presentations from field experts, and you don’t have to pay anything to watch them. Some of them focus on technology, and others focus on science, business, or design.

When I wanted to learn how to make masquerade masks, I scoured Youtube and Vimeo to find free tutorials for beginners. That’s where I learned the basic techniques. I used the money I saved to buy materials. Within a year, I began taking commissions from friends. Within two years, my masks were available at small businesses and craft fairs here in Chicago!

If you want to learn coding and web development, there are pretty much endless resources out there for you. We interviewed two self-taught Brad's Deals developers last year to see how they broke into the biz, and they listed 18 cheap sites, camps and online courses even beginners can succeed at.

If there's something you want to learn, chances are there's a free or cheap online resource out there to help you do it for less. You just need to know where to look! Subscription sites allow you to drop in on courses and follow your passions, but they require recurring payments to stay connected. Courses with individual enrollment fees allow you to skip the subscription model, but they don’t allow you to study outside your chosen field without extra payments. Figure out what's best for you, and advance your career in no time!

This story originally appeared on Brad's Deals.

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