Advice — Considering an online course? Here’s why you should go for it
If you caught the new-year-new-you bug as we stepped into 2019, you might be one of many people looking to sharpen your skill set online this January. From video tutorials to formal courses, there’s a myriad of tried-and-tested platforms to choose from – but how do you choose the right one, keep up momentum and get the most out of the experience? We ask ustwo Adventure’s Neef Rehman, who made the move from a career in science to creative work, after building design and coding skills via Udacity, Udemy and SuperHi. He fills us in on the things that helped him most, along with input from Dan Parry – a fellow self-learner and product strategist at Metier Digital – who earned a wealth of knowledge from YouTube tutorials and through dedicated forums.
For me, online learning was my gateway into the creative industry. Coming from a physics degree, I never imagined I’d be able to do design work, or have a job somewhere like ustwo Adventure. Self-learning helped me overcome my lack of confidence, communicate to others that I was serious about working with design, and meant I had something to show.
I now work in a role where about fifty percent of my time is spent designing and developing – skills that were both acquired online. So for others considering taking up online courses and learning, these are the things I suggest considering on your journey.
Know why you’re doing it
It’s good to start by asking yourself why you want to learn something. It might be because you want to get into a different industry, progress from your current role, or apply for a new job. It’s important to keep the bigger goal in mind so you can stay on track, and keep the motivation there.
In the words of fellow self-learner Dan Parry, who similarly switched from a science background to working in advertising and tech, “Figuring out your ‘why’ is key, and will help you get through the tough times.”
“Online learning was my gateway into the creative industry.” – Neef Rehman
Neef working at ustwo Adventure
Don’t be too selective about the platform
You can really waste time fretting about which platform or specific course is better. In my mind, your time is better spent just starting a course, trying things out and practising. These days, online learning is such a big, competitive industry that no one is really that far ahead of anyone else. So if people are using and recommending it, and it covers the areas you want to learn, I’d say to go for it.
Paying for a course can be a good motivator
I definitely don’t think that paying for stuff automatically means you get a better education, or better content. But it can mean feeling the need to see it through, and in my case it was a pretty good motivator!
Another benefit of paid courses is that some include one-to-one or group support from the course provider – which you should definitely take advantage of. Some Udemy and Udacity courses do this, as well as SuperHi, who also have a really supportive Slack channel for their students.
Be disciplined and put your learning into practice
“Try to build a routine and apply what you’ve learnt often,” is a rule that Dan recommends for all self-learners. I personally learn by making things, so it was really helpful to put stuff out there and get feedback. You have to be putting things into practice, otherwise learning can seem quite abstract.
“Try to build a routine and apply what you’ve learnt often.” – Dan Parry
Don’t forget the soft skills
I think one of the misconceptions with online learning is that it can give you everything you need, but you shouldn’t overlook the soft skills required for a job. As a designer, for example, knowing your craft is one thing, but you will also have to work in teams, so collaboration and communication are key.
Identify someone you can talk to about your progress
It’s a good idea to find someone you can check in with – possibly on more formal terms, as a mentor. This means you can ask for help, advice and feedback from someone who has been through a similar journey. As Dan advises, “Speak to people who are doing what you want to do, and build some real excitement for where you could be.”
It’s also essential to learn to receive criticism and practice talking about your work in an eloquent, concise and confident way. Mentor schemes or industry communities can be great for this (among many others, I recommend YSYS, a supportive network of makers from minority backgrounds working in the tech industry).
And finally, as Dan adds: “Get someone or something to hold you accountable!”