How To Use Online Learning Platforms to Develop Technical Skills
Online education has broken down the walls of the traditional classroom, enabling millions to learn whatever, wherever, but many still feel uncomfortable transitioning to this novel environment. In particular, it can be challenging to get started with a learning strategy that enables you to get the most out of these platforms.
But the rise of online learning couldn't come at a better time, especially because professionals need to renew their technical proficiencies and achieve mastery of both new technologies and processes. Online learning platforms make this easier than ever before because you can learn on a continual basis, regardless of your location and on your own schedule. They also make it easy to proceed from one skill to another without having to take breaks in between—or while taking as many breaks as you want.
Let's dive into how to develop your technical skills using online learning platforms, current trends, and some key factors to keep in mind while pursuing online tech education.
What are current trends of online learning, and how has it evolved?
Online learning platforms provide you with a diverse array of technical course offerings that you can take at your own convenience. You can also save considerable money because you can pick and choose your courses instead of having to pay for a series of classes as you would in a degree program.
The convenience and flexibility of these courses put you in a position to:
Design your own learning strategy according to your skill gaps
Choose the platform that best fits your learning style and use any device you'd like to interact with the content
Use the skills you learn in real-world settings, testing and reinforcing your knowledge
The versatility of online learning has made it the go-to option for organizations looking to foster a pro-learning culture. These platforms give companies easy access to tools they can use to ensure employees have actionable technical knowledge as it pertains to both skills and processes.
As a result, the business environment is filling up with organizations consisting of professionals that are constantly learning and applying new skills.
How to optimize your online learning experience
Even though there are numerous ways to use online learning platforms, here are three core strategies that can streamline—and simplify—what can be a complicated process.
Strategy 1 – Navigate available content
The first step in choosing content is to assess your needs as a professional. You can either self-assess, targeting knowledge or skill gaps you need to reach your goals or use an online assessment. These are essentially quizzes that reveal the kinds of courses you need the most.
It's just as important to evaluate yourself as a learner, then commit to making some adjustments when it comes to your learning habits. For example, you need to develop the ability to know when you have to upskill and reskill—and the humility and determination it takes to take the courses you need.
This is diametrically different from the traditional educational model, where you depend on an institution to tell you what you need to learn.
Once you've established what you need at a high level, you can set up a personalized learning path that targets each of your skill gaps one by one.
Identify the best online platforms for your needs
You may use a mix of courses provided by your training provider and those you find online yourself. Also, keep in mind the value of accreditation certificates, whether you want to use them as artifactual evidence of your professional development or list them on your resume in the future.
For instance, you may want an Azure Solutions Architect certification or a more general cert for microservices architecture. If you do need this kind of formal recognition, this will weigh heavily as you compare different platforms and course offerings.
For many learners, the course provider also makes a difference. For instance, some platforms, like Udemy, feature learning content from pretty much anyone who decides to put up a course. While the content is vetted, some may prefer to learn from an instructor trained and provided by the company that produces the tech the course is about. For example, you can get vendor-based training such as AWS Skill Builder or Microsoft Learn.
Choose the most ideal pricing model
Several different pricing models are available, including free, freemium (a mixture of free basic courses and premium, paid-for classes), pay-per-course, and subscription-based.
Navigating pricing models can be a challenge because many combine multiple options. For instance, you may be able to take a free intro course to a programing language, but to learn how to apply it to machine learning, you may have to either subscribe to a platform or pay per course.
Strategy 2 - Review course formats
When it comes to course formats, you generally have to choose between two options: scheduled and on-demand. With a scheduled format, you must attend a class using videoconferencing at a predetermined time.
One advantage of scheduled courses is you get to experience learning alongside others. This brings a social element to the experience, as well as the potential for some encouraging, positive peer pressure.
On-demand courses give you the flexibility to log in and learn whenever it works for you. You can watch a short video that tackles a detailed element of a topic or string together several hours of content, whichever fits your schedule and learning style best.
The device you can use to access course content will play a role, as well, especially because it can limit the degree to which you can interact with the class and/or its materials. To illustrate, suppose you take a course where you team up with other classmates via videoconference during class sessions. During these sessions, you share documents as you work together to produce artifacts or solve problems.
In this case, you may have to use a laptop because it may be easier to share documents in the course’s online video conferencing app. Or it may simply be more convenient to use your laptop because that’s where you do most of your work.
But if you want the flexibility to attend classes while standing on a bus or train, you may prefer a course you can navigate with a mobile device. This raises another important element of your strategy: comparing the platforms of different online learning solutions.
Strategy 3 - Assess online learning platform characteristics
The online learning platform is a crucial consideration because it impacts the tech you use, how well the course structure matches your learning style, and the ease with which you're able to grasp and apply the knowledge you glean. Effective platforms tend to have multiple of the following characteristics:
An engaging user experience. This sets these platforms apart from video-sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo. You want a platform that chunks your content into well-organized units that are easy to navigate.
Personalized recommendations. It can be difficult to choose from hundreds of courses, so a platform that provides personalized recommendations makes it easier to figure out which courses to take.
Tailored learning paths. Some platforms automatically combine several courses into a learning path according to your end goal. This makes it easier to see what you need and plan your schedule accordingly.
Enterprise integration. A platform that integrates with your enterprise connects your learning experience to databases, software, or other tools your enterprise has. This can enable more convenient learner management, data synchronization, and analytics and reporting.
Multimedia content. A course that provides access to content in different mediums may be a better fit for your learning style. Multimedia content also gives you a chance to take a break from a series of videos, articles, or audio material, giving your brain a refreshing breather.
AI capabilities. Learning platforms with AI capabilities offer features like automated analytics of your performance, adaptive learning that adjusts the content you get according to how you're doing, or intelligent tutoring, which automatically provides tutoring content based on how you’re handling the material.
Social learning. While social learning may not be for everyone, some courses provide the chance to interact with other students via videoconference or by connecting outside of class. For many, this provides much-needed, positive social pressure.
Gamified interaction. Gamified interaction is very common, and it includes the ability to earn badges, compete with others via leaderboards, earn points, or complete quests and challenges.
You may be able to find platforms that incorporate most or all of these features. The key to success is crafting an experience that best fits your learning preferences and goals. For example, you may not need a course that integrates with your enterprise's systems as long as it provides well-structured learning paths and multimedia content.
Online learning platforms come with several strengths and weaknesses that you'll want to consider, especially as you strategize the next steps in your educational journey.
On-demand training. With the right platform, you can learn at a time that's convenient for you.
Broad, deep content coverage. You often get wide coverage of a topic and a detailed dive into what would otherwise be difficult concepts.
Personalized and social learning. Online learning platforms often enable you to personalize your experience by using features that suit your learning preferences. Some also incorporate social elements so you can connect with others and share the journey together.
An effective, cost-efficient solution. It may be easier to convince a manager to sponsor your online training because it's comprehensive, provides quick results, and often costs far less than other education options.
You need to be digitally literate and have a strong personal commitment. Learners have to be comfortable in a digital environment for a smooth experience. Also, because you have to self-motivate, you need to have a powerful sense of personal commitment to get the most out of a course.
The platforms add new topics slowly. It may take a while for a platform to introduce a new topic because it takes a lot of work to develop the content. So you may have to wait to supplement your education with another course.
Traditional formats dominate the content. On many platforms, all you have are videos and transcripts. This can limit the extent to which you can interact with the content.
Not enough social and peripheral learning. For many learners, there's significant value in being able to connect and work with other students, and many online learning platforms don't offer this.
To truly capitalize on the potential of online learning platforms, you need to:
Set personal goals and match the content to your learning preferences. This kind of personalization makes it easier to form an authentic connection with the learning process, which leads to better skill development.
Consider broadening your learning experience to include other skill sets.
Make learning a habit using a head-heart-habit model. This involves continually learning for technical proficiency, enjoying the experience, and making a habit of scheduling sessions and practicing what you learn.
The best way to approach your online learning experience is to begin by navigating the available content and creating a personalized learning path that meets your professional needs. You also need to review the course formats to make sure they match your learning style and schedule. Then you should put each platform you're considering side by side to see how their characteristics stack up.
Working on technical skills isn't a "one-and-done" exercise. It's an iterative process, one where you constantly nourish your mind with new skills and find ways to improve.