Economy

The top 10 free online courses

Patrick Stafford /

features-the-graduate-200Entrepreneurs are always learning. Whether it’s through reading or watching a mentor work, learning how to do business better is a fundamental part of running a company.

So it’s little wonder many courses in the latest trend of free education are aimed squarely at entrepreneurs. While some may still view free, online courses with a sense of derision, the truth is these resources are quality sources of knowledge.

There are plenty online, but we’ve put some work into finding the 10 best, free online courses. Take your pick and learn something new.

1. Foundation of business strategy

A lot of entrepreneurs don’t understand strategy. It depends on having a long-term view and predicting what will happen in the lead-up to implementing it. And if you’re running a business, it’s critical when thinking long term. If you don’t understand strategy, you don’t understand how to make decisions.

Michael Lenox from the University of Virginia runs this course designed to think critically about strategy. This one isn’t just for the entrepreneur – anyone with some sort of strategy involved in their business would do well to have a look.

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2. Leading strategic innovation

“Innovation” is hard work. It’s difficult to foster a culture of innovation or creativity in a business, especially if you’re not especially inclined that way. But this course, run by Vanderbilt professor David Owens, is designed to at least get you on the right path.

The basic principle of the course is that you can manage people when innovation is your goal. It’s almost like a psychology course, learning how to manage people when what you really want is creativity.

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3. Introduction to operations management

Operations management sounds like such a useless term. But at its most basic level, all it means is just learning to improve processes within your business, whether that’s productivity or customer service.

This six-week course, run by Wharton School professor Andrew Heller, breaks down the basics of managing these types of processes. According to the course description, you’ll study the Six Sigma system, and even the Toyota production process.

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4. Web development

Businesses depend on good web development, but so few entrepreneurs actually understand it or how it works. This course, run but Reddit founder Steve Huffman and web developer Anthony Teate, explains the ins and outs of development and the knowledge required to run a blog application and then scale it.

Be forewarned – the course requires some moderate programming and computer science experience. But if you’re a savvy entrepreneur in these areas, then it should be able to help you out.

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5. How to build a start-up

It sounds pretty simple, but starting a new business is incredibly difficult. And while many experienced businesspeople end up starting their own companies, many do it for the very first time and don’t have a clue what they’re doing.

This course at Udacity is run by Steve Blank, an entrepreneur who has started several businesses in Silicon Valley. He’s taught entrepreneurship at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia and other universities.

The course assumes no prior knowledge and it’s a solid introduction to starting your own business.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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