Skilling Up with Online Learning

By: | May 3rd, 2015


As engineers, we learn a lot of the fundamentals of engineering in school, but as our careers develop, many of us feel that more training would be useful. When this has been the case in the past, engineers have often considered going back to school to learn aspects of engineering they may not have already mastered. Today, there are several online resources available that enable engineers to learn new information or refresh their knowledge of concepts they’ve already learned. Major advantages of these tools, versus formal schooling, include the relatively low cost and the convenience afforded by the flexibility of on-demand lectures. Below are some of the specific sources of online learning that could be useful for engineers.

  • EdX – EdX is a massive open online course (MOOC) platform, started by MIT and Harvard University in 2012. Many of their courses, which are generally offered in video format, can be taken for free, though most of them also offer the opportunity to earn a verified certificate for a small fee. A number of the courses, compiled from different institutions, could be of interest to engineers. Their signal processing course, for instance, may help a mechanical engineer who begins working for a defense contractor on a radar system for which signal processing is relevant. Check out the preview video for the course embedded below:
  • Coursera – Coursera is similar to EdX but was started by Stanford University. Like with EdX, access to much of the information on Coursera is free, but statements of accomplishments and other credentials can be earned when courses are paid for. Coursera currently has 89 engineering courses list on its site.
  • Udacity – Unlike EdX and Coursera, Udacity is a for-profit provider of MOOCs. Courses are provided in video format and include quizzes and homework to encourage students to learn through problem-solving. Udacity offers the opportunity to earn “nanodegrees” by enrolling in programs that are a few hundred dollars per month and last several months. The content on Udacity, unlike EdX and Coursera, which provide content from a wide variety of disciplines, is focused on technical content, much of which is relevant for engineers.
  • Autodesk – Autodesk is a software company that includes an Education Community that provides educational versions of its software. In addition to offering free online instructional videos, Autodesk holds informative annual in-person conferences. There are also more formal training options that enable users to gain credentials through the Autodesk system.
  • MongoDB – MongoDB is a document-oriented database. The company provides a number of options for learning engineering concepts. Their online courses are free. Their public training option costs between $1000 and $1500 and involves in-person training. These sessions are limited to 12 students so that students receive individualized attention from instructors. For those who want even more assistance, they can inquire with MongoDB about private training.
  • Aquent – Aquent is an employment agency in Boston, founded by Harvard students. The company offers courses to improve job seekers’ skillsets. Most, if not all, the courses in Aquent’s course catalogue are relevant for engineers.
  • Lynda – Lynda is a private online education company that specializes in video courses related to engineering and business. Students pay for resources but can earn certificates in the courses they complete. Lynda offers some courses that are not traditionally part of an engineering curriculum but that may benefit professional engineers. For instance, courses on Photoshop and Video Editing can be useful for an engineer creating marketing materials. (Side note: large tech companies are giving online learning a serious look. Case in point, LinkedIn recently acquired Lynda for $1.5 billion!)

My engineering background has been critical during my career. However, I have found online educational tools invaluable as I have moved into a Project Management role at Extension Engine, a company specializing in developing education technology tools and platforms. Check out this video to learn about the potential of Open edX for your organization. I would encourage other engineers who may be interested in applying their engineering knowledge to new problems to take advantage of some of the many learning opportunities that have developed in recent years.

Chris Hilger

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