Practical and fun ways to upskill while working from home

From data science and Python to parenting and leadership, there is an online course for all

Csaba Posta, IT specialist working from home, studies with his daughter Vilma during the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Budapest, Hungary March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

A story has been making the rounds on Twitter that Isaac Newton worked from home in 1665, after the University of Cambridge temporarily closed due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague. He used his time to develop calculus and the theory of gravity.

This is no suggestion whatsoever that you take on advanced mathematics or the universe’s unsolved physics problems. Instead, here is a roundup of free or low-cost online courses and resources that you, a professional adult working from home, might pursue with any newfound time.

Class Central, which bills itself as "a TripAdvisor for online education", was a major help in coming up with this list. Its founder, Dhawal Shah, tells The National: "Rapid change is more than ever a feature of our economy and job market. In days like these, when many of us find ourselves stuck at home, online education can serve as an outlet to continue to make productive use of our time."

The National recommends:

Find out what Big Data is all about

Data is the fuel powering the global economy’s shift to automation and personalised services in everything from finance to real estate to e-commerce. While it is a major topic of conversation, few people can actually walk the walk.

From an e-learning platform based in Saudi Arabia, check out this course taught in Arabic about the basics of database systems. Or, for an overview in English, check out "Data Science in Action" taught from Eindhoven University of Technology via Coursera, starting on April 13.

You may not know that robots are run on data. For a reality check on what they can and cannot do, learn about the challenges still stymieing researchers in robotic design, and what is being done to overcome them with a course from the University of Sheffield.

Expand your mind

If new-age skill-building is not what you are after, consider brushing up on a language or digging into history.

You can connect with teachers and native speakers of dozens of languages from around the world using iTalki. The platform helps you find a tutor, but then it's up to you and the instructor to decide how instruction will be delivered – Zoom or email are popular choices. Rates start at around $10 (Dh36.7) per hour.

Or, get to know the history of the place we call home with a free Coursera course titled "The Cosmopolitan Medieval Arabic World". From the course description: "Did you know that Arabic was for centuries the lingua franca in an area stretching from the south of Spain to the Chinese border? Did you know that the Middle East under Muslim rule in those days was the world's beating heart of trade, but also of science and scholarship?" Living here, maybe you did know all of that. But it would be fascinating to dig into it further.

Practice better parenting

If you have children, it is likely you are being pressed into duty like never before and maybe even going a little mad. Get back to basics with a Yale University professor who will teach the "ABCs of Child Rearing" starting March 30. The free course is taught over four weeks and promises to give parents a toolkit of "behaviour-change techniques that will make your typical day in the home easier". Dr Alan Kazdin, who teaches the course, says you are likely doing just fine, but it never hurts to brush up.

Learn to code

Python is among the most highly sought after programming languages for those hiring developers and data scientists. One of the top-rated courses on Coursera, "Programming for Everybody" from the University of Michigan, aims to teach everyone the basics of programming computers using Python. The free training starts on March 30.

Pick up some ‘soft skills’ 

The future of work is “about much more than hard skills like learning new digital tools and competencies”, according to the World Economic Forum. Its January jobs report recommended picking up soft skills – leadership, adaptability, how to translate feedback into measurable change – to ride the wave of digital transformation with grace and skill.

Skillshare has hundreds of free videos under the topic of "leadership" from experts that average about 20 to 30 minutes. You can dig into topics such as the basics of public speaking, how to make pretty infographics and slick Powerpoints and what makes a great team.