Meet MOOCS: These Online Certifications Will Help You With Your Soft Skills

The acronym might sound like the name of your aunt’s old dachshund, but MOOCs (massive open online courses) are having a huge impact on continuous learning.

Right now, you can register for a course in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or in a philosophy course from Harvard University. You can also enroll in classes about video games and sock knitting — all for free. Yeah, really.

The right MOOCs can lend your career a competitive edge — but where should you start?

It seems every time I log into LinkedIn, I drown in the advice from different career experts. Today, I’m urged to learn mobile app development. Tomorrow might be “JK not mobile app dev, but I PROMISE you should learn business-to-business marketing.”

I’m all for continuous learning, but an early career journalist doesn’t need to take a B2B sales seminar (thanks anyway, Carol from LinkedIn.)

“[Hard skills] are always going to change if they’re overly technical,” said Ben Brooks, CEO of Pilot, a New York-based career improvement company.

But what about those universal soft skills? Below I’ve compiled some tried-and-true soft skills with Brooks’ help. They’re important to master, in high demand and applicable to any industry.

I’ve paired each soft skill with a related MOOC, and each MOOC has a certification available. Once you’ve mastered each skill, don’t just throw a few new bullet points on your resume and move on. Attach the certification to your LinkedIn profile.

“At the end of the day, people look at your resume for about seven seconds,” Brooks said. LinkedIn or your online portfolio is so much more important than a resume.

These MOOC certifications aren’t only useful on the job hunt. They’re valuable in current jobs and overall career development, too. That’s because certifications show employers initiative and ambition, according to Robin Colner, who is on the faculty at Fordham University’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies, where she leads her own certification program.

“It shows a desire and an understanding of the marketplace, which every employer wants,” Colner said.

The Basics of MOOCs

Before we get started, here’s a primer:

  • Each course is 100% online and can be completed at your own pace.
  • After enrolling, you’ll be placed into a group with other classmates and assigned a teaching assistant for additional guidance
  • With the exception of Duolingo, which is less a class and more a collection of gamified study materials, the courses have suggested start dates and syllabi to keep you on track.
  • Course materials are typically broken up into weekly sections. Take notes because each section has a quiz at the end.
  • Don’t sweat it if you need to take extra time. There’s no penalty.

While the classes are free to take, the certifications range from free to $150. But don’t worry if you lack the cash: The MOOC providers on this list all provide financial aid options. Most certificates will end up being free after financial aid; some will be discounted up to 90%.

MOOCs That Teach Important Soft Skills

Duolingo app being used to study Japanese
Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

Emotional Intelligence

Taught by the expert faculty of the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, “Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work” is all about building trust, cooperation, empathy and conflict resolution skills.

Combined, these skills make up one’s emotional intelligence, or “EQ.” And it’s safe to say that the labor force could use a higher EQ.

But it’s not just about being a better co-worker. A higher EQ can also help you learn more about yourself by increasing self-awareness and stress management.

Course: Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work

Provider: edX

Estimated completion time: eight hours

Bragging rights: course certificate

Multicultural Literacy

As diversity in the workplace changes, so does its social dynamic. Working in a multicultural environment may sound easy or intuitive. In fact, people of color make up over one-third of the workforce, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So most workers are likely part of diverse organizations already.

Just being in a diverse environment doesn’t mean you have the proper skills to navigate it, though. It requires a lot of self-awareness and effort.

Experts on diversity and multiculturalism lead “Cross-Cultural Competency,” a course from the University of West Florida’s Innovation Institute. This course tackles issues that crop up in the workplace due to cultural differences and gives learners the tools to solve those problems through shared cultural understanding.

Course: Cross-Cultural Competency

Provider: Canvas

Estimated completion time: 10 to 15 hours

Bragging rights: course badge

Storytelling and Communication

This one might seem like a “duh” choice to some. Storytelling is in our DNA, but not everyone is good at it.

Think of it this way: Even if you’re the most qualified job candidate, not being able to articulate your skills and accomplishments will hold you back professionally.

“A recruiter, or more likely a machine, is going to determine if you’re roughly qualified. That’ll get you an interview but that won’t get you a job,” Brooks said. “It’s all about the stories and narrative you have.”

We tell stories all the time in emails, meetings and presentations. With “Storytelling in the Workplace,” you’ll be able to better sell yourself to employers and also spice up day-to-day workplace communication.

Andrea Hickerson, Director of the School of Communications and Associate Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, will teach you how to hone your voice to best connect with various audiences.

Course: Storytelling in the Workplace

Provider: edX

Estimated completion time: 18 to 24 hours

Bragging rights: course certificate

Personal Branding and Social Media Literacy

Figuring out how to use social media is one thing, but leveraging those media platforms to create an online persona that will land you a job is another.

“It’s critical to have a personal brand,” Colner said. “That goes for everyone in business today.”

Through Coursera, The University of Virginia offers “Introduction to Personal Branding,” a course that helps you navigate the cluttered social media world. It helps with everything from crafting a mission statement for your personal brand to maintaining your presence on at least three social media platforms.

Even if personal branding doesn’t appeal to you, holistic social media skills are essential, Colner said.

People may think they know all of what social media entails, “but they’re not getting the full picture,” Colner said. “It’s important to see how all these pieces fit together. That’s what a [certification] program can help with.”

Course: Introduction to Personal Branding

Provider: Coursera

Estimated completion time: 15 to 25 hours

Bragging rights: course certificate

Second Language Learning

Beside the cognitive, spatial, problem-solving and metalinguistic benefits of learning a second language, it can also be super practical. Bilingual workers earn 5% to 20% more than their monolingual counterparts, according to Salary.com.

And as the job market continues to globalize, nothing says “나를 고용해요! (Hire me!)” like second-language skills.

Duolingo, a free platform for language learners, has more than 150 million users worldwide. The website offers courses in Spanish, French, Chinese and many others (even High Valyrian and Klingon). Lessons are broken down into segments using a combination of gamified exercises, discussion questions and leaderboards to keep you motivated.

Course: I suggest Spanish or Korean

Provider: Duolingo

Estimated completion time: learning a language is a lifetime endeavor

Bragging rights: Language certification (in beta)

Adam Hardy is an editorial assistant at The Penny Hoarder. He lives off a diet of stale puns and iced coffee. Read his full bio here or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.