The smart entrepreneur’s guide to online learning

6 min read
Jody Carey

Online learning opportunities have exploded in the past year. This means there are more ways to expand your skill set in a format that fits a busy schedule.

Now that we're more comfortable with online tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, online learning is easier.

Courses come in all shapes and sizes, from one-day workshops to year-long programs. Opportunities are everywhere, but knowing where to look is tricky to navigate with endless choices.

If you're considering a skills refresher or if it's time to learn a new craft, we'll explore where to look for online short courses that can help advance your business.

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1. Small business short courses

Upskill online through short courses from Australian universities and TAFE (technical and further education). They're pros at developing classes to meet the demand for reskilling and upskilling.

TAFE offers a wide variety of short online learning courses to help entrepreneurs learn new skills and keep their businesses and careers on track. Many TAFE courses are subsidised, and some are free through programs such as:

Universities such as RMIT offer a Future Skill program designed to help transform careers. They offer 38 specialised classes that may not be offered elsewhere. Classes such as cybersecurity risk and strategy or healthcare design are offered in six to 12-week formats. The cost is higher than TAFE, but they may have the exact skill you're looking to gain.

Free TAFE's Women in Business program

The NSW Government and TAFE NSW launched a fully-subsidised online learning program (in other words, FREE) for women who run or want to start a business with less than 200 employees. Enrol and select the topics you want.

With 24/7 access, you can learn new skills at your own pace.

Topics include negotiating skills, business writing, cash flow, social media and emotional intelligence.

Related: 8 smart ways to get organised in this new financial year

2. Industry-specific online training

People working in the field every day are sharing their knowledge in the form of digital courses and online communities. What you get are practical tips and a deeper understanding directly from specialists.

Course providers may not be recognised educators, but that shouldn't matter.

Baker decorating cupcakes with icing

The teachers are small business owners themselves, and offer key learnings from their experiences and research. You’ll find professional development classes available in almost every industry. Since class sizes are small and the good ones have waiting lists, these classes can be harder to find. But they’re worth it.

Start by asking people you know working in the industry. For example, if you want to learn more about increasing leads through search engine optimisation (SEO), ask a web developer or copywriter. They'll direct you to online groups and courses within their field.

With the increase in online learning options, it can be hard to find a class offering the best value for money.

Word of mouth is the best way to find these opportunities.

Not all online courses are the same. The good ones keep their content current and offer small group discussions that cater to the needs of the class. You'll benefit from rich discussions with other students as well as the teacher and learn from each other's mistakes and successes.

Take advantage of those who are highly skilled in areas from marketing and finance to cybersecurity and eCommerce. They've opened their online doors to share their knowledge in a digital format.

3. Application-specific online skill development

Sometimes the skill you want doesn't require a year-long course. With every software subscription you have, there are hundreds of dollars of free courses waiting for you.

Somewhere tucked in your emails there’s likely an invitation to join a webinar about:

  • How to use your proposal software more efficiently
  • How to maximise video apps like Loom and Zoom to increase sales
Man reading something on a tablet

Software as a service (SaaS) providers such as Xero, Salesforce, Mailchimp, Google and HubSpot all want to make sure you're getting the most out of their products. Webinars and Zoom training sessions are interactive and can be a better online learning experience than watching a tutorial.

GoDaddy Academy offers certified technology and business programs for entrepreneurs.

Courses on sales essentials and digital marketing basics are free.

And if you're looking for a deeper understanding of web design, you can take a certified web developer or web architect program for the same price as a tank of petrol.

What's changed in online learning since COVID-19

In the past year, government funding has increased to help all Australians. This means more online learning opportunities that are free or subsidised. There’s an emphasis on those sectors experiencing shortages of skilled workers.

Free training through SafeWork NSW

With an overwhelming need for mental health and wellbeing support, national courses designed to help people experiencing mental health issues are now available.

Any businesses in the private sector with 200 employees or less and not-for-profit organisations can take advantage of this free mental health at work training. You can choose from a two-hour interactive Zoom training or a self-paced option.

Subsidised training courses at TAFE

The Australian government and state governments have partnered to offer free or low-cost online learning in subjects where there's anticipated growth and needs.

Areas such as health, IT, trades, disability and aged care are the leading fields.

At TAFE, you can take nationally-accredited courses in hospitality and business to agriculture and food processing. The short courses costs are free for those eligible for JobTrainer. 

Check with your state government or local TAFE for more information about specific subsidised business recovery programs available:

Now is the perfect time to upskill

With the highest number of online learning options in history, now is the time to find a subject and skill up. In as little as one day, you'll have new information and insight to apply to your business.

Whether you select a private course from an industry expert or a fully-accredited class through TAFE or university, learning new skills will let you stay on top of what you need to know to grow your business.