Thursday 28 August 2014 8:40 pm

The best free online courses for businesses this September

Liam Ward-Proud looks at the free online courses that can help you learn a new skill.
Massive open online courses, or Moocs, are taking higher education by storm. Often free, accessible to all, and with lectures viewable at your convenience, they’ve already given millions the chance to trial a new area of study or continue learning well into later life. Class Central, a Mooc discovery platform, reckons that 10m worldwide have now signed up for courses, with two new Moocs launched every day.
Topics range from The Art and Archaeology of Ancient Nubia to Nanotechnology: The Basics, with a huge number focusing on business and the economy. The big platforms are Coursera, Udacity and edX, and finding courses is as simple as Googling the title. Here are some picks that could help your career.


Unless you’ve been living in a hole, you’ll know that we now live in a world of big data. Understanding how to spot patterns and prove relationships between different variables is a highly prized skill for many employers, and could prove useful in a far wider range of roles than you might suspect – even HR departments are getting in on the data act. This introductory stats course from Duke University is simple, relatively comprehensive, and only assumes “basic math” (it may be worth dusting off your GCSE textbooks… just in case). 


Computer programming can seem impenetrable to the outsider. But even a basic grasp of the fundamentals of how the machines surrounding us work could prove beneficial – you may learn to write programs to perform laborious spreadsheet tasks for you. This course aims to demystify the subject, and is pitched at beginners. 


Nobel laureate Robert Shiller has been teaching at Yale since 1982, and his Financial Markets course is one of the most popular Moocs around. It goes over everything you’ll need to know about the basics of how the modern financial system works, covering efficient markets, portfolio theory, debt, and the role of futures, options, banks and monetary policy. The weekly quizzes sometimes get a bit mathematical, but it’s rarely much harder than pricing bonds, or discounting. 


Many of the entrepreneur-focused Moocs have the slightly fuzzy air of a self-help manual about them. But How to Build a Startup, from Silicon Valley veteran Steve Blank, is rooted in the concrete idea of rapidly developing and testing product ideas. It’s not delivered through a university, and Blank draws on his impressive experience of building business to give practical advice to budding entrepreneurs.


The financial statement is fundamental to understanding a firm’s health, but it might as well be written in Greek for some. This course breaks it all down, and gives you the tools you’ll need to read, understand and analyse even some of the more complex facets of a company’s accounts.

Stream lectures on the go

One of many platforms offering Moocs for free, Coursera also comes with the option of paying a small fee (often around the £40 mark) for Signature Track, which verifies that you have taken and completed the course. The range available is enormous, and the contributing institutions are some of the most prestigious around – Yale, Princeton, Stanford, among others. For Harvard and MIT, try edX instead, which is also free and has a similar range of choices.