Continue learning during the coronavirus pandemic

I’ve intended to work on a certain certification for a year or two now, but I haven’t been able to do it. I had just made the decision to enroll when the coronavirus was detected in the U.S. My plans were put on hold.

Or were they?

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I was discouraged, but determined to continue learning during the coronavirus pandemic. I began checking for online courses immediately, but every event that was listed was either canceled or optimistically still listed as in-person events.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally saw a course for the certificate listed online. Then a few more were added.

The registration for the certification itself is relatively inexpensive, while the courses vary in price from free to several hundred dollars for days-long events. I signed up for most of the virtual courses so I could start working on the certification immediately.

While it’s not related to writing, this is a professionally-recognized certificate that I think will allow me to advance my science writing. Already, the courses I’ve taken have helped me think of better ways to communicate difficult concepts.

It will also help me with a side project.

It’s also FUN!

Why now?

I would LOVE to see the new coronavirus just disappear, but it just isn’t going to happen. My hope is that this certification and others will continue to adapt, and more courses will be offered online. There are already many available now.

I’m still busy. I’m writing, pitching clients, doing behind-the-scenes tasks, and continuing with my online side gigs.

But even with all of that, I’m always looking for something new to learn.

Enough other plans were derailed by this. I want to continue learning during the coronavirus pandemic to help me achieve some of my original goals.

So in a way, maybe it’s also about keeping some control.

I’ve nearly finished earning a small, single class certificate: Intro to Sustainability, offered by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign online through Coursera (referral link).

My bachelor’s degree is in communications, but I’ve always enjoyed participating in workshops and events on the environment and sustainability. While it’s not a professional certificate, it will show that I have independently studied the subject area.

It was an inexpensive way to ease back into classwork before investing in a more expensive class or certificate.

As I’ve written more articles on scientific research and issues, I’ve wanted to study conservation, sustainability and related topics. They’re important, and I hope that the knowledge I gain from the classes allows me to come up with more story ideas, have a greater understanding, and become a better science communicator.

I’ll also have a greater understanding of demography and sustainability to help me write more clearly about these issues for readers.

A woman wearing headphones works at a computer while writing in a notebook.

Can online certificates really boost a career?

Yes… and no.

Whether or not a certificate can help your career depends on a variety of factors, including the certificate, the organization issuing it, how widely recognized it is, and your career choices. There’s been a lot of debate about how much MOOC (massive open online courses) courses matter to potential employers.

If you have questions about a particular certificate or what to pursue for your career goals, reach out to a mentor or someone in the field.

I like Coursera (referral link) since I can learn from home and choose my area of interest, and I do it primarily for fun.

But there are lots of options available. For example, should you wish to teach ESL classes online during the pandemic, you may want to take an online TESOL course for a professional certificate.

While I hope to learn more to improve my own science understanding and writing skills for work, I mainly want to take the courses for myself.

I guess I have a weird idea of fun.

Online courses and certificates

  • Coursera (referral link) offers online courses, specializations, certificates and degrees, as well as guided projects. These include free and paid options, and financial aid is available.
  • Udemy offers a ton of courses in photography, marketing, time management and many other areas.
  • Google Cloud has certificates in Google Cloud technology. There are a few options, including one designed to show off your skills in G Suite.
  • Rutgers University offers an online certificate in project management.
  • The Project Management Institute also offers certificates in project management.
  • The North American Association for Environmental Education has a list of states that offer environmental education certificates.
  • The American Copy Editors Society partnered with The Poynter Institute’s News University to offer two different certificates in editing. There are significant discounts for ACES members.

As a side note, Poynter’s NewsU is an AMAZING resource for journalism courses. They offer free and paid courses.

There are many, many options for online courses, certificates, nano- or micro-degrees, or full degrees, ranging from free to thousands of dollars.

Screenshot of course offerings from Poynter's NewsU
Poynter’s NewsU offers a mix of free and paid online courses.

Should you take a course?

Before investing in a long-term, intensive or expensive certificate or degree, I wanted to ease back into the world of studying and classwork deadlines. Coursera courses have helped me do that. They’ve also kept me occupied.

Maybe they can do the same for you.

Just remember: We’re in a pandemic. It’s a rough time.

There have been a lot of changes. Many of us are caring for kids or other dependents. If you can’t take a course, or just don’t want to, there is no pressure. It’s all up for individual choice.

I know for me, I feel at my best when I’m working on a goal. It helps keep me focused and motivated. It also lets me explore topics that I’m interested in but were outside my degree or professional training areas.

But sometimes, we need a period of rest, and for many of us, that may be this time.

If you do want to pursue a certification or take a class in writing or any other topics, go for it.

Some places, like Coursera, even offer financial aid to help make it possible.

Even if it won’t help your career, it could keep you intellectually engaged if you’re still sheltering at home.

If you’re not ready, rest. Get some space. Come back refreshed.

How are you keeping yourself occupied? What is helping you quell anxiety, feel productive or help you relax during the pandemic?