For technologists who want to learn new professional skills, there are plenty of free resources online. But which resources are free, and which are most effective at teaching you those new skills?
When you’re evaluating which tech learning programs to pursue, make sure you have focused goals, such as whether the program will teach you new skills or also land you a new job, advised Beth B. Davis, vice president, training and analytics for SkillUp Coalition, a nonprofit organization comprising more than 60 partners that include training and education providers, tech firms, employers and philanthropies.
“You should have your own goals very clearly understood—are you learning a particular skill? Are you training for a career, and what is your expectation of what you’re going to get out of it?” Davis said. “I think these considerations are essential.”
Also evaluate whether an online or in-person program is best for you. Some programs will offer industry-recognized credentials at the end. “Digging into what the demonstration of completion looks like is an important thing for workers to know,” Davis said. “Some of these programs will pay for your fees to take an industry-recognized exam, and others don't.”
Some resources for tech learning are intensive, career-based training programs, whereas others are online, self-paced opportunities for workers to acquire new skills. Here are some free ones to consider:
Amazon Web Services
Amazon Web Services provides several free tech learning programs, including AWS Educate, which offers self-paced cloud learning resources in 12 career pathways. It connects 2,400 institutions and 10,000 educators. In addition, AWS Educate brings together companies and job seekers on the AWS Educate Job Board.
The company also offers more than 500 free on-demand courses through AWS Training & Certification. Learning plans in this program include a focus on cloud foundations, as well as developer, networking and data analytics. In addition, there’s a machine learning-focused program called Machine Learning University, which provides the foundations in ML and trains professionals in the same way that Amazon’s developers learn ML.
Coursera is one of the most well-known online learning resources, with more than 87 million people using the site to learn new skills. The site includes some free courses offered by universities and tech companies such as Atlassian; topics range from machine learning and user experience design to cryptography. It also offers a paid Coursera for Business service, in which it partners with companies such as General Electric and Tata.
Microsoft Learn is an online resource that provides learning paths for Microsoft products such as Azure, .NET, GitHub, Dynamics 365 and HoloLens. You can choose a level from beginner to advanced, as well as modules appropriate for a role, such as data scientist, DevOps engineer and solution architect. Microsoft Learn also offers certifications to get professionals ready for roles such as security administrator associate. Online courses are free, but Microsoft charges for instructor-led programs.
NPower offers a free 23-week program called Tech Fundamentals featuring mentoring from senior-level IT professionals and workshops that prepare people from underserved communities for employment. The program sets up technologists for roles as a desktop analyst, business analyst or junior project manager. To qualify, participants should be 18-26 years old and have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. The program is also open to military veterans and their spouses.
Per Scholas is a boot camp-style program that provides free training to students, then places graduates in entry- to mid-level roles. The courses are taught in-person throughout the country, including Boston, Denver and New York. However, online options are also available. Per Scholas works with education partners such as AWS re/Start and TEKsystems. Course categories include cloud, cybersecurity, information management and software engineering. An advantage of Per Scholas is direct involvement from employers, according to Davis of SkillUp, which partners with Per Scholas.