To MOOC or not to MOOC? What are the training options for the self-employed?

online learning

One of the things that’s hard about being self-employed is staying up to date. Doing the CPD to make sure you’re still relevant in a changing market can be prohibitively expensive when you don’t have an employer to pick up the tab.

I’m a member of a professional association – the CIPR – which offers CPD as part of membership. I’ve done a lot of their free training – sat in front of the webinars, read the pdfs.  They’re pretty good, as far as they go – which tends to be just up to the point where they’ve thoroughly covered the basics and someone with significant practical experience of a subject wants to leap off into new thinking.

The advanced stuff is there – for a price.  The CIPR offers members a discount on their training packages.  If you’re freelancing, paying what seems to be the standard members’ charge of £420 inc VAT for a workshop (not to mention the loss of fee-income for a day) can feel daunting.

Beyond the confines of your own membership association, costs get very steep very quickly.  Want to improve your facilitation skills to boost your management credentials?  A quick google search reveals a two-day training course which costs £880 + VAT. Interested in opening new doors by getting a Masters?  I found one that I’d love to do: £5,225 per year for two years. (In case you were wondering, there are no student loans for post-graduate degrees for students over 30. Oh, and your training is not necessarily tax-deductible).

I don’t doubt that the training on offer in all of those courses is terrific or that it would be a great investment in my career.  I don’t think trainers should give the self-employed training for free out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s just very difficult to find those kinds of sums up-front, out of a freelancer’s income, especially when ROI is hard to quantify and the quality of what you’re buying can’t be assessed until you’re in the room and it’s too late to back out. I would guess that everyone reading this has at one time or another sat through poorly designed, badly delivered training which felt irrelevant to their working life. That’s annoying if it’s taken time out of the day job. It’s heart-breaking if it also cost you, personally, a sizeable chunk of next month’s mortgage. Often it feels like too big a risk to take.

The cheapskate approach to training?

High quality new ideas – preferably free – is what I crave.  So I’m giving thanks to the creators of PR Stack, a crowd-sourced directory of PR tools which looks fantastically useful.  Massive open online courses – MOOCs to their friends – also seem like a possible, cost-effective alternative to the expensive training course.  I’ve just started one being offered by FutureLearn.  I’m doing it as much because I’m curious to see how the experience measures up as in the hope of learning something new.  I’ll post again when the course is over. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from fellow freelancers who’ve cracked the training conundrum: how do you do it?

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