4 In-Demand Skills You Can Learn Online

4 In-Demand Skills You Can Learn Online

High costs of college tuition and the growing abundance of online resources to learn about topics from computer science to blockchains have created an unprecedented opportunity for self-taught professionals and entrepreneurs. Consistently learning new skills and adapting to the evolving work environment is crucial to maintaining a fruitful career in today’s workforce.

Many college graduates do not even work in the field that they majored in, and instead, work in an area that they initially received a job in out of college or taught themselves how to excel in. Whether you’re looking to transition into another field or just want to learn some new skills as a hobby, the ability to do so has never been as convenient or powerful as it is now.

The increasing prominence of online education resources

In parallel to the proliferation of online educational resources is the explosive growth of freelancing. A 2017 study by Upwork revealed that freelancers are predicted to become the majority of the workforce within the decade. Many freelancers and entrepreneurs are self-taught, learning new skills on the fly out of a need to develop a professional talent or by meticulously studying a topic through online classes or reading.

Related: 15 of the Best and Most Unusual Online Courses for Entrepreneurs

The progression of the internet into its modern form has opened avenues for extensive, user-friendly, and affordable educational material for users of all levels of experience. Online resources for enhancing professional skills range from free university courses to standalone educational platforms that connect students and paid professionals. Some even offer informative games, impressive video tutorials and open-source frameworks for improving  content.

Here are four areas in which you develop skills and learn more about online.

1. Coding and software development

I taught myself the basics of computer programming in a prison cell by reading textbooks and using a number two pencil, without internet access. I know computer science can be intimidating for someone not familiar with the topic since it is often viewed as having an exceptionally high barrier to entry and robust prerequisite skills in mathematics. Thankfully, numerous educational materials are available for users of all experience levels to learn about how computers work and how to program.

These resources are not just relegated to proprietary online platforms either. MIT OpenCourseWare offers undergraduate and graduate courses on computer science — among other topics — online for free.

Platforms such as KhanAcademy, Coursera, and Udemy all provide their own courses on software development, computer science and other related topics. The material may be intimidating at first, but the classes are comprehensive and tailored to students of all talents with video tutorials, walk-through problems, projects and connections to top educators.

2. Languages

Learning new languages becomes more challenging as you get older, but the sheer amount of content and material available to learn new languages today is perhaps the best representation of online education’s progression. Services such as Rosetta Stone are established and popular among many people, but numerous other services have also arisen.  

Internet Polyglot offers courses on 21 different languages, Live Lingua is an entirely free full-immersion language course platform and mobile apps such as Duolingo and Busuu have skyrocketed to the top of the app download charts. The ability to speak multiple languages is not only helpful if you live in a foreign country or are traveling, but is a net positive for your resume that can even bolster your salary.

Related: Get Smarter About Business Cheaper With These 10 Free Online Courses

3. Healthcare and medicine

Similar to computer science, healthcare and medicine are primarily viewed through the prism of an exceedingly high barrier to entry. However, the notion that you can be successful in the medical industry solely with a doctorate is fading.

Online platforms such as Khan Academy and Coursera offer some in-depth material on life sciences, sports medicine and anatomy. Although they won’t provide the necessary material for becoming a doctor, they can help launch your career in the field or provide up-to-date content for you to refine your knowledge.

The prevalence of online education in fields including pharmaceutical medicine, healthcare project management and public health are also increasing. Once challenging areas of study to access are now widely available through platforms such as Class Central that aggregate resources from the top online universities in several fields. Subjects available in healthcare and medicine include clinical statistics and research, nutrition and epidemiology.

4. Blockchain

Blockchain and cryptocurrency exploded into the mainstream following the meteoric rise of the price of Bitcoin at the end of 2017. Despite the relative decline in prices over the past year, interest in the blossoming industry persists. Moreover, resources have transformed from obscure open-source Github repos to comprehensive courses on everything from understanding the underlying protocols to programming smart contracts. The demand for blockchain experts has officially exceeded supply, as reported by BTC Manager. That means, despite the volatility of the market, there’s still a huge market opportunity for anyone wanting to develop their skills.

Kingsland University – School of Blockchain was the winner of the 2018 Stevie Award in the Innovator of the Year category that offers a highly touted and extensive suite of blockchain programming curriculum. Programs like those provided by Kingsland University were few and far between in the early days of blockchain technology, but now are vital to onboarding new industry participants and facilitating the transition of many programmers to the blockchain space. With industry partnerships — such as their recent one with the Tezos Foundation — Kingsland will be creating the much-needed talent pool that will drive future innovation and growth. They’ve recognized the crucial role education plays and they are getting out into the community and providing scholarships for career building education, with a nearly guaranteed job at the end of the training.

Related: Why Your Business Assets Belong on the Blockchain

Other resources for learning more about blockchain and cryptocurrency are Blockchain at Berkley and Udacity’s Nanodegree program on blockchain development. With the technology still in its early stages and blockchain developer salaries among the highest out of any industry, the opportunity to earn a lucrative income has never been so widely available.

The internet has created unprecedented educational opportunities for anyone with an internet connection. Previously restricted and highly exclusive material is now available for free to virtually everyone. For entrepreneurs and freelancers, online resources are crucial to gaining professional insights and building a foundation to advance their careers. I dedicate one hour per day to learning something new and even have it as a calendar event on my schedule to make sure I hit my daily goal. It’s so much easier to learn now that all of my notes don’t have to be scribbled down in a notepad using a number two golf pencil.


Liz Weston: How to ‘Death Clean’ Your Finances

FILE – This April 2017 file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Liz Weston, a columnist for personal finance website NerdWallet.com. (NerdWallet via AP, File) The Associated Press

The phrase “death cleaning” may sound jarring to unaccustomed ears, but the concept makes sense. It’s about getting rid of excess rather than leaving a mess for your heirs to sort out.

“Death cleaning” is the literal translation of the Swedish word dostadning, which means an uncluttering process that begins as people age. It’s popularized in the new book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Margareta Magnusson.

Magnusson focuses on jettisoning stuff, but most older people’s finances could use a good death cleaning as well. Simplifying and organizing our financial lives can make things easier for us while we’re alive and for our survivors when we’re not.

This task becomes more urgent when we’re in our 50s. Our financial decision-making abilities generally peak around age 53, researchers have found, while rates of cognitive decline and dementia start to climb at age 60. As we age, we tend to become more vulnerable to fraud, scams, unethical advisers and bad judgment, says financial literacy expert Lewis Mandell, author of “What to Do When I Get Stupid.” Cleaning up our finances can help protect us.

Some steps to take:


Fewer accounts are easier to monitor for suspicious transactions and overlapping investments, plus you may save money on account fees. Your employer may allow you to transfer old 401(k) and IRA accounts into its plan, or you can consolidate them into one IRA. For simplicity, consider swapping individual stocks and bonds for professionally managed mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (but check with a tax pro before you sell any investments held outside retirement funds). Move scattered bank accounts under one roof, but keep in mind that FDIC insurance is generally limited to $250,000 per depositor per institution.


Memory lapses can lead to missed payments, late fees and credit score damage, which can in turn drive up the cost of borrowing and insurance. You can set up regular recurring payments in your bank’s bill payment system, have other bills charged to a credit card and set up an automatic payment so the card balance is paid in full each month. Head off bounced-transaction fees with true overdraft protection, which taps a line of credit or a savings account to pay over-limit transactions.


Certified financial planner Carolyn McClanahan in Jacksonville, Florida, recommends her older clients keep just two credit cards: one for everyday purchases and another for automatic bill payments. Closing accounts can hurt credit scores, though, so wait until you’re reasonably sure you won’t need to apply for a loan before you start dramatically pruning.


Identify whom you want making decisions for you if you’re incapacitated. Use software or a lawyer to create two durable powers of attorney — one for finances, one for health care. You don’t have to name the same person in both, but do name backups in case your original choice can’t serve.

Consider naming someone younger, because someone your age or older could become impaired at the same time you do, says Carolyn Rosenblatt, an elder-law attorney in San Rafael, California, who runs AgingParents.com. Grant online access to your accounts, or at least talk about where your trusted person can find the information she’ll need, Rosenblatt recommends.

Also create “in case of emergency” files that your trusted person or heirs will need. These might include:

?Your will or living trust

?Medical directives, powers of attorney, living wills

?Birth, death and marriage certificates

?Military records

?Social Security cards

?Car titles, property deeds and other ownership documents

?Insurance policies

?A list of your financial accounts

?Contact information for your attorney, tax pro, financial adviser and insurance agent

?Photocopies of passports, driver’s licenses and credit cards

A safe deposit box is not the best repository, because your trusted person may need access outside bank hours. A fireproof safe bolted to a floor in your home, or at minimum a locked file cabinet, may be better, as long as you share the combination or key (or its location) with your trusted person. Scanning paperwork and keeping an encrypted copy in the cloud could help you or someone else recreate your financial life if the originals are lost or destroyed.


Beware of the True Cost of Private Student Loans

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Most of my young clients join the ranks of the professional world with some amount of student debt. It’s this very reason that any family with a student getting ready for college or graduate studies should read on.

Recently, I took on a client who came to me with $168,000 in total student loans. To make following the story easier we will give my client a fictitious name and call her Anne. Anne obtained her degree at a private institution and graduated with a substantial amount of debt. Her level of debt isn’t unlike most young adults without wealthy parents to pay the astronomical cost of tuition. However, Anne could have saved well over $100,000 on her student loans. (For more, see: 10 Tips for Managing Your Student Loan Debt.)

Anne borrowed $97,000 of her $168,000 from private lenders Sallie Mae and Wells Fargo. Yes, Sallie Mae is a private lender. Unfortunately, too many borrowers assume Sallie Mae is a part of the federal lending program. The confusion is that up until 2014, Sallie Mae used to be the loan service provider for two federal loan programs: the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program and Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program. On October 13, 2014, Sallie Mae split into two companies and the part that services federal loans became Navient.

Unfortunately, what I have learned from analyzing so many client student loan plans is that most borrowers do not understand the terms and conditions of their loans. Nor do they know the proper channels to follow before choosing a private lender. These are fundamental problems that result in the average person potentially finding herself getting taken to the cleaners.

Borrowing Options

For most families, borrowing might be the only option. In order to help aid in that decision process, use the following hierarchy when borrowing at the undergraduate level (best to worst):

  • Perkins Loans – $5,500/year
  • Direct Subsidized – $5,500/year
  • Direct Unsubsidized – $20,500/year (less any subsidized amount received)
  • Parent PLUS Loans
  • Private Loans – Fixed rate
  • Private Loans – Variable rate

For those looking for higher learning opportunities at the graduate level, like my client Anne, federal loans should be the first choice. The common misconception is that a grad student can only borrow $20,500 per year from the federal program, with a lifetime limit of $138,500. This is true with the direct unsubsidized program, However, the Graduate PLUS program allows a student to borrow up to the cost of attendance, minus any financial aid received. (For more, see: Student Loans: Paying Off Your Debt Faster.)

It is entirely possible to pay 100% of the cost of tuition with federal loans. In order to qualify for the Graduate PLUS program, a student must have sound creditworthiness. So for students with bad credit, they may need a parent to guarantee the loan and co-sign. Assuming that parent trusts and understands their credit is tied to their child, the federal program remains a better alternative to borrowing from a private lender.

Some parents prefer to see their kids have some skin in the game and pay for a portion or all of the cost of college – or at least make their kid think they have to pay for their education until that student has earned their degree. The bank of mom and dad is always the place to start for those who are more fortunate than others. However, that parent or grandparent should review the minimum personal loan rates published by the IRS so that they do not inadvertently get hit with a gift transfer tax.

Government Debt Forgiveness

It just so happens that Anne works for a hospital that is classified as a non-profit, 501(c)(3). Student loan borrowers working for a 501(c)(3) are currently eligible for a government debt forgiveness program called, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). In order for a public employee’s loans to qualify for debt forgiveness, the following criteria must be met:

  • Full-time public sector job (30 hours or more)
  • Direct federal loans only
  • Loan status is repayment
  • Cumulative of 120 on-time payments
  • Payments made from an income-driven repayment plan – Income-Based Repayment (IBR), Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)

The key criteria missing for Anne was that her federal debt only amounted to $72,000, which is still a lot. However, when compared to her annual income of $109,000 it wasn’t. Basically, the higher ratio of income-to-debt greatly reduced Anne’s level of forgiveness. In fact, she gets a marginal benefit compared to a standard 10-year payment plan. Only $350 of forgiveness was projected in our analysis.

On the other hand, had Anne borrowed everything from the Grad PLUS program, her total federal debt would have exceeded her annual income. This is when PSLF and other types of debt forgiveness offer a substantial financial benefit to the borrower. In Anne’s case, she would have benefited from a projected savings of $116,700. Instead, we had to go a more conventional route and refinance a majority of Anne’s student debt. This meant her total estimated savings was reduced to $22,600.

The impact of student debt borrowing decisions and how to pay for college, even at the beginning stages, is substantial. For my client, Anne, we are talking about a difference of $94,100. It’s why college planning is essential for families with college-bound kids. Especially when that kid wants to pursue a higher cost degree like a doctor, lawyer, veterinarian or pharmacist. Regardless, the economics of making sound choices will dramatically affect your child’s adult life. So if you are a parent or young professional and don’t know or don’t have the time to learn it, enlisting the help of an expert is worth every penny. (For more, see: Debt Forgiveness: Escape Your Student Loans.)


Learn the basics of woodworking at Grand Rapids classes

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If you are looking to learn more about woodworking, there is a business in West Michigan that is hosting classes.

Rivertown Woodcraft, 2456 Plainfield Avenue NE in Grand Rapids, has a variety of classes where you can learn how to build holders for your plants and even a beer flight board.


Free online courses open to library card holders

A free library card from the Rhinelander District Library has always represented opportunity to explore, learn, and be entertained. Available now with that same card are interactive instructor-led online courses, free to library card holders in good standing.

Called Gale Courses, they are offered through the Wisconsin Valley Library Service for anyone who wishes to learn or brush up on skills, explore an area of interest, or even earn a certification in a particular career field.

“There are so many interesting classes, but I would recommend committing to just one class,” said Rhinelander District Library Director Virginia Roberts. “You have to have regular access to a computer and be disciplined to make it work.”

Roberts said funding for the Gale Courses is made possible by an increase in the 2017 Department of Public Instruction budget, to further the WVLS partnership with the Department of Workforce Development.

“We already provide workforce development,” Roberts said. “The state-provided database Badgerlink is available through our website, which provides resources such as magazines, testing materials and newspapers. The Gale Courses will enhance those efforts.”

There are over 375 classes available online, including topics such as writing and publishing, accounting and finance, language and arts, law and legal and personal development. The courses run for six weeks and new sessions begin every month. For more information and to look at classes visit www.rhinelanderlibrary.org and click on the “Lifelong Learning” widget on the bottom of the homepage.


Marine veteran alum found a home at CSU

Percy Walker

For as long as he can remember, Percy Walker has been working to better himself.

Raised by his grandmother in New Jersey, he was the first male in his family to graduate from high school. With no money for college, he decided that joining the Marines was his path to success.

“My mom couldn’t take care of herself, let alone my sister and I, but my grandmother kept me grounded,” he said. “When it came to high school, no one spoke about college so, to me, the military was my No. 1 option to better my circumstances. I enlisted at 17, spent a year in the delayed entry program, graduated and left for boot camp.”

That was 18 years ago, and much has changed in Walker’s life. Now a sergeant major, he has served across the country and around the world, including two deployments in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. He is married and has four children, ages 15, 5, 3 and 1.

He earned an online bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2014 from Purdue University Global, but he had always longed to learn more about computers and information systems. His search for an online master’s program led him to Colorado State University online.

“Wanted to be part of the CSU family”

“With me moving every three years, that limited my choices, so I narrowed it to three schools,” he said. “CSU’s program just stood out to me. The No. 1 thing was the name – I wanted to be part of the CSU family.”

His program in computer information systems required being part of several group projects. He was stationed in San Diego, so online meetings with fellow students were via Skype. That’s how he got to know Hillary Noble, who was pursuing the same degree while working in web development and design for CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“I first met Percy because we were assigned to a group project by our professor,” Noble said. “We met over Skype and were able to complete many group projects remotely as we had many classes together. We both have young children and similar work schedules, so Skype and email made our countless group projects manageable.”

Finding help – and friends – from 1,100 miles away

Between parenting, work and online classes, the challenges were substantial. Walker’s wife, Jamie, is a flight attendant, so he was often on his own with the children, and his chosen degree field was more of a passion than something he had spent years studying.

“There were so many times I wished I had stayed in my lane academically, so it was a real struggle,” he said. “I had always loved computers since I was very young, but getting that degree was very, very challenging.”

Walker, 37, said CSU’s Adult Learner and Veteran Services office provided invaluable help in navigating the process – “Without them I would have been lost,” he said – and professors were very accommodating of his schedule. At one point, during the middle of a semester, the Marines chose him for an anti-terrorism course, and his already full plate overflowed.

Faculty, staff go the extra mile

He credited professor Charles Butler, who has been on CSU’s business faculty for 35 years, with helping him stay the course.

“I remember Percy because you could tell he was a bright guy who was having some struggles,” Butler said. “It’s a really difficult balance being a student while in the military, but I’ve always felt that we owe a certain degree of responsibility to help our military personnel, and I was happy to help Percy.”

Percy WalkerParty time

A big moment for Walker came in February 2017 when he had a free day between military assignments to visit campus and attend classes. It was the first time he had sat in a physical classroom since high school.

And when he graduated the following May, he brought his wife and family to Fort Collins. Noble, the friend he had never met but knew so well, threw him a graduation party.

“The way Hillary, her family and friends adopted me was truly amazing,” Walker said. “They were as proud of me as my own family. I’ll never forget that.

“When I look back, CSU was supportive of me in every way. I can’t see me having gone anyplace else. I definitely chose right.”