Turn your hobby into a business with these free e-learning courses

Posted on Oct 14th, 2014 | Planning

E-learning is taking off across the world – especially in Europe – where the market grew 5.8% last year, with an estimated worth of £5 billion by 2015. This growth reflects a change in attitude in the workplace, where professionals value the opportunity to develop multiple skills, driving them to take learning into their own hands.

Indeed, it’s been estimated that nearly 25% of all employees leave their job because there simply aren’t enough training or learning opportunities. Many turn to contracting or freelancing to gain the work satisfaction they want. Indeed, the UK is seeing a boom in self-employment, with over 4.5 million Brits now choosing this career path over traditional employment.

Thankfully, self-betterment in the internet age is becoming increasingly easier. Today, there are hundreds of free e-learning apps and websites out there, which you can use to teach yourself anything from practical skills and languages, to how to draw and write computer code.

We had a look around for the top free resources you can use to brush up on some extra skills. They’re casual learning tools that you can put as much or as little time in to as you want – perfect for learning at your own pace.


Codecademy is a free, interactive website that teaches you the basics of various programming languages. Learn about the code that makes up the backbone of the internet, like HTML, CSS and Javascript, then move on to more complex languages like Python, Ruby and PHP.

Digital professionals are increasingly being expected to have a basic understanding of code. If you’re a writer, it’s useful to know how to format your articles using HTML. If you’re a designer, it’s useful to know CSS so you can design for the web, as well as for print.

The courses are set up in a fun and intuitive way, guiding you through the process from the absolute fundamentals, right through to sandbox challenges where you’re set a task and left to your own devices. There are also a few more advanced courses, like how to build a website, and how to design apps that interactive with popular services like YouTube and Facebook.


Duolingo is a mobile and web app for learning languages, available for iPhone and Android. The current languages on offer are Spanish, Danish, Irish, French, German, Portuguese and Dutch.

In an ever-expanding international marketplace, knowing another language can open up a host of opportunities across the world. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of effort and frequent practice to get anywhere. Duolingo is great because it makes this process fun and fiendishly addictive, inspiring you to put in the required hours.

The app uses some clever gamification to inspire you on your way from unintelligible amateur to silver-tongued linguist. Work your way through increasingly tricky levels, spurred on by an endearing green owl, who rewards you for answering questions correctly by dancing round the screen to pleasant twinkly trumpet sounds.


Canvas is an online learning platform designed to encourage teachers to develop new, interactive ways of providing education. Their motto: “Your brain really, really wants to be smarter. Don’t make it beg. That’s just mean. Also: not smart.”

All the courses available are currently free and range from foundational courses in reading, writing and maths, to more left field offerings like how to teach using the computer game, Minecraft. Instructors are vetted by Canvas for quality, and are often university professors, or experts with years of professional training.

The courses are often quite specific, so a more productive use of Canvas is as a tool to deepen your knowledge of fields you already know something about, rather than delving into a whole new area.


Lumosity is an online and app-based brain-training service developed by an expert team of neuroscientists. Currently used by over 60 million people, it’s proving to be a new favourite way to exercise our minds.

The service allows you to develop your skills in memory, attention, speed, flexibility and problem solving. Each section has a number of subsections that you can pick and choose depending on what aspects you want to improve. For example, the ‘memory’ section has subsections on ‘remembering patterns and locations’ and ‘associating names with faces’.

Although Lumosity doesn’t teach you any specific professional skills, training your brain to complete mental tasks it’s not usually used to can help you make the transition from one kind of career to another.


Memrise is similar to Canvas, but is more like a social network of learning. Anyone can submit their courses on a very wide range of topics, from accounting and finance, to capital cities and celebrity trivia. Courses are rated by the community to help you choose.

It’s altogether a more lighthearted affair than Canvas, with instructors encouraged to design their courses to be fun and imaginative. The idea is to earn points as you learn and to compete against friends and other Memrise users.

There’s a broader offering on Memrise than on Canvas, which means you can find more ‘absolute beginner’ courses, if you’re looking to expand into a whole new area of expertise.


This one’s really not for the faint-hearted. Datacamp is an online learning tool designed to teach you how to be a data scientist. You’ll learn everything you need, from how to use the programming language ‘R’, to basic computational finance and financial econometrics.

Running in a very similar way to the Codecademy courses, Datacamp’s modules are set out in chapters and subsections, intuitively organised to help you progress with ease. You begin each course with a lot of guidance, and are slowly coaxed on to taking more control.

Data analysis is useful in all kinds of industries, from trading jobs in the city to digital marketing. Knowing how to analyse trends could give you the edge over others in the job hunt, and Datacamp is a great way to get you started.

So, whether you’re stuck in a dead end job and looking for a career change, or whether you just want to try something new, why not give e-learning a try, and steer your career in whichever direction you want it to go.

Photo by Ryan Taylor Smith

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Written by Nick Chowdrey

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