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Valuable Skills You Didn’t Know You Could Learn Online


Photography: michaelsharon

Whenever the going gets tough, tough companies don’t react by getting going. They tell their employees to get going instead. The US economy is said to have already lost some 6 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, the largest number of layoffs in a downturn since World War II. Some of those fired workers are finding other jobs, perhaps with less pay and sometimes as a stopgap until something better comes along. Others are taking the opportunity to set up their own businesses or, if the last recession is anything to go by, rebranding themselves as “consultants” – the geek version of what actors call “resting.”

Lots of former workers though are neither collecting unemployment benefits nor looking for new niches in the marketplace. Instead, they’re going back to school. Even as endowments are falling and fees are rising, colleges are reporting an increase in applications, including from people hoping to graduate with new skills just as the economy gets going again.

But while education is always a good thing – and learning beats spending your time in front of daytime TV — going back to school isn’t always a simple option, especially when you’re too settled to uproot easily and you need a flexible schedule to suit family life. According to the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), some four million students have solved that problem by using distance learning, including online courses.

While many of those courses are simply home-based versions of the sorts of classes you can find at any bricks-and-mortar college, others are a bit unusual. Here are some of the strange, valuable and useful classes that you can take from home and without ever seeing the inside of a lecture hall:

Video Game Making

A number of online colleges offer courses in game design but the Game Institute was created specifically to teach wannabe developers how to create games, while allowing students to learn from their own  homes. Classes include foundation studies in programming, modules in C++ for game development, game mathematics and even console engineering – for which you’ll have to bring your own soldering iron and motherboard.

While many online courses suffer from either a lack of accreditation or the kind of low prestige that makes them look less than glowing on a resume, the Game Institute’s knowledge is practical and useful for entrepreneurs. With a foundation package starting at $399, it could also prove to be a bargain when your game hits the top of the iPhone app charts.


The Game Institute will give developers the technical skills necessary to create games but not everyone has a head for figures. If a return to high school math isn’t your thing — and the modules include refresher courses on the kind of number-crunching you probably wish you’d seen the back of — maybe you can learn something a little more creative. Kaplan University’s online classes include a B.S. in Information Technology/Multimedia & Animation which explains how to blend interactive media with commercial content, as well as teaching game animation and virtual tours. It might not land you a job at Pixar, but it could give you the knowledge to create your own animation studio.

Helping Humanitarian Workers

These aren’t courses for the average redundant developer but they are interesting. The Headington Institute’s online modules are aimed at psychologists who want to help humanitarian workers returning from difficult environments. Classes include “Understanding and coping with traumatic stress”, “On the road again: Coping with travel and re-entry stress”, and “Understanding and Addressing Vicarious Trauma”. Presumably being able to study these fun topics while sitting in your pajamas in your living room is an important part of beating the stress.

And if you were thinking of riding out the recession with a little overseas voluntary work, then a quick look at the content of these courses should do a good job of keeping you at home.


You’ll need to be a psychologist to make use of an education from the Headington’s Institute to heal the world’s helpers. Anyone though can be a herbalist. The Clayton College of Natural Health is accredited by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and the American Naturopathic Medical Accreditation Board, whoever they are. While that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to finally make your mother proud, call yourself a doctor and start looking for volunteers to practice your neurosurgery techniques, it does mean that the college’s degree-level classes in Holistic Nutrition, Traditional Naturopathy, Herbal Studies and Companion Animals Studies will let you start administering to the sick and trendy. More importantly, you’ll be able to start charging.

Food Studies

Of course, to cure your patients you’ll have to persuade them to drink your herbal mixes. That might be a little easier if you know how to make them look appetizing and taste nice too. The New England Culinary Institute is just one college offering food-related courses. At the moment, you can take an online bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Restaurant Management but the institute is getting ready to start offering Internet-based classes in Cooking Theory and Food Science and History, Flavor and Culture among others. When they bring their wine-tasting class online, you’ll be able to sit in front of the computer with a bottle of booze and tell people you’re staying in to study.

Public Relations, Law and Business Studies

And if you really want to do something useful, London University is offering an online course in Management with Law, the Robert Kennedy College at the University of Wales provides an online MBA and the University of Phoenix is one site of many that allows online students to take degrees in Public Relations.

But all of those courses are practical and useful, and what’s the point of taking a class like that during a recession?

One Comment

  1. William Bakhos Says:

    I love the internet and the way you can get so much information to enter a new news. I've learnt Flash, Photoshop and HTML from the net (among other things) and I'm purely in business.

    The other problem is that people learn about things that you should really see an expert about. These include issues like health where people are searching the net for their symptoms and get conflicting messages so they freak out or jump to conclusions. I still think some things should be left to the experts!

    Nice post.


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