The Best Free University Courses for Professional Workplace Skills
Why Take an Online Professional Skills Course?
Professionalism is considered by employers as essential for success in the workplace.
Alongside more technical or specific talents, the ideal employee displays professionalism in their conduct and attitude towards their work.
This encompasses displaying a strong work ethic, good communication, acting with integrity, embodying company values and being a reliable representative for your firm.
Professional conduct displays respect and loyalty towards your employer and dedication towards performing your job role to the best of your ability. These are attributes that will help your career to advance and thrive.
Recruitment and senior managers look for strong skills that reflect a professional approach when considering candidates for hiring and promotion.
An online professional skills course will help you to hone your professional skills and conduct yourself in a manner that will impress your co-workers, clients and managers.
All courses listed in this article are MOOC courses, which means they are free to complete.
Some will require you to audit the course to receive free access; however, you will still be able to view and read all course materials.
If you want to be able to show a credential for your work, however, you will need to pay for a certification.
Who Might Benefit From Taking a Free University Course in Professional Workplace Skills?
There are several free online courses available to help learn skills beneficial for a professional work environment.
Taking a course of this kind may be beneficial for the following groups of people:
School leavers often find that the subjects taught in school fail to provide adequate preparation for the practical world of work.
Taking a free online course in professional skills is a great way to bridge the gap between education and the workplace, helping you to feel more prepared and confident to take on your first full-time job role.
If you are entering an apprenticeship or vocational training program, learning and applying these soft workplace skills will give you a professional advantage and increase the chances of securing a permanent position with your employer post-qualification.
Graduates Entering the Workplace
For graduates starting their first entry-level job, the learning curve can be steep.
You are expected to know the nuances of operating in the workplace environment from the outset, conduct yourself appropriately, build relationships with co-workers and clients, and excel in your new role.
Being proactive in your own personal and professional development by taking a workplace skills course can equip you with the necessary knowledge, helping to smooth the transition.
The ability to display professional workplace skills during graduate hiring processes will increase your chances of employment, so it is never too early to invest your time in taking a free course.
Individuals Seeking Career Progression
For mid-level career professionals seeking a promotion or career change, displaying competency in professional workplace skills can help to achieve the next step.
Taking a course in professional skills may set you apart from the rest of the crowd.
What Should You Expect to Gain From Your Workplace Skills Course?
While the skills learned from a professional workplace skills course will depend upon its focus and orientation, courses commonly address a selection of the following:
Communication skills – How to communicate professionally in person, through email and on the phone. Learning focuses on appropriate etiquette, vocabulary and body language, as well as how to quickly read a situation and respond accordingly.
Emotional intelligence – The importance of emotional intelligence to facilitate the creation of bonds of trust and respect within the workplace. This topic seeks to increase self-reflexivity, social awareness and empathy to improve your working relationships.
Adaptability and resilience – Guidance on how to strengthen your approach at work to increase its resilience. Courses touching on this topic provide tools to improve your ability to adapt and cope with a changing work landscape, including encouraging resilient capabilities, self-care practices and values.
Critical thinking – Teaching on how to problem solve in the workplace to tackle emerging challenges, including how to analyze your current course and provide and accept valuable feedback.
Teamworking – The ability to build strong professional relationships with your co-workers and stakeholders and how to form, motivate, and/or lead diverse teams.
Skills for the recruitment process – Some courses cover how to prepare yourself for the hiring process. They may touch upon conducting job searches, completing application questions, writing an engaging and professional cover letter and resume, and preparing for an interview.
Organization behavior – Teaching an understanding of organizational structure and hierarchy to better understand workplace dynamics. The topic seeks to enable understanding of the behavior (and misbehavior) of your co-workers and managers to allow for more effective organizational operations.
Cultural sensitivity– Inclusion of this topic aims to improve work in cross-cultural environments. It seeks to cultivate an awareness of cultural differences in the workplace and how to communicate and build relationships effectively across countries and cultures in terms of verbal and non-verbal communication.
Wellbeing at work – Focusing on improving personal and/or organizational happiness in the workplace. Topics of learning may include the advantages of high levels of wellbeing at work, how to evaluate happiness levels and practical ways to improve the wellbeing of your team.
How to Improve Your Workplace Skills Alongside Your Course
While taking a professional workplace skills course is beneficial in itself, to get the best out of the experience, you should seek to not only apply but develop what you have learned.
This could be done in the following ways:
Find a mentor – Seek a mentor who can support your professional development, helping you to gain new knowledge, skills and experiences. A mentor will help you to become more self-reflective and work with greater effectiveness through challenges.
Be a mentor – Becoming a mentor for someone junior in your workplace will help you to reflect upon your work practices, while giving you the experience of managing the development of a colleague – employing skills around how to deliver constructive criticism, teach new skills and motivate.
Developing commercial/industry awareness – To accompany your new levels of professional awareness, seek to develop your knowledge of your industry and its operating environment. Possessing both professional work skills and high commercial awareness will place you in better stead for a new role or promotion.
Taking on new challenges – To apply and develop what you have learned through your free online course, put yourself up for new challenges in the workplace, perhaps leading a project team, presenting to the board or going on placement to work within a different department.
Network more widely – Seek to make connections across departments and sectors. This will allow you to have diverse interactions with individuals whose work and perspectives differ from your own, testing your ability to display emotional intelligence and build relationships.
The 10 Best Free University and College Courses for Professional Workplace Skills
This Professional Skills for the Workplace Specialization, run by the University of California, seeks to help working professionals early in their careers to improve their interpersonal relationship skills.
The specialization is made up of four online courses, which are at a beginner level (one or two years of experience):
This course gives you the tools to be emotionally and socially intelligent in the workplace to better manage your relationships, recognize your behaviors and impulses, and adjust to best serve the situation.
It features modules on self-management, social awareness, empathy and relationship management.
The course has a duration of approximately 12 hours.
Focusing on improving critical thinking using a practical model, this course aims to improve your ability to problem solve in the workplace.
It features modules on problem-solving, analyzing options and engaging feedback.
The full course should take around eight hours to complete.
This course encourages you to reflect upon the mindset you bring to your work. It teaches tools to facilitate a growth mindset and avoid the stagnation of a fixed mindset.
This course should take approximately 10 hours to complete and contains modules on the foundations of the growth mindset, internal and external blockers, organizational mindset and dealing with setbacks.
With industry landscapes constantly changing, adaptability is key to success.
You must be comfortable to react and re-evaluate, changing your approach to suit an evolving situation and overcoming unforeseen challenges.
This course seeks to equip you with the knowledge and tools to be more adaptable and resilient at work.
The modules concern behaviors demonstrating adaptability and resilience, building self-awareness, creating an action plan and implementing the plan.
It should take around nine hours to complete.
The learning for each course is delivered through videos, readings and quizzes.
The course is self-paced, so you can start immediately or learn on your schedule.
Upon selecting a course to start, you will be automatically enrolled in the full Professional Skills for the Workplace Specialization. You can choose to take just one course within the specialization or complete the full set.
The specialization is available for free by choosing to audit. Through this route, you will be able to view and read course content, but you will not be able to take part in the assignments and gain peer feedback.
There is an option to gain shareable specialization and course certificates to provide evidence of your learning.
The Professionalism and Business Etiquette course, delivered by Central Queensland University, will help you to master communication and soft skills.
The course teaches how to display professionalism in your appearance, behavior, and attitude, alongside communication and email etiquette.
It is aimed at individuals who are new to the workforce, such as graduates or those working in a business setting for the first time.
The learning is delivered through videos, long and short articles, audio recordings and practical activities.
The course has a duration of two weeks and requires around two hours of study each week.
If you take the course for free, you will have access for four weeks.
If you join Future Learn and upgrade, you can get a digital certification of achievement upon completing the course.
This Work Ready Skills course hosted by Central Queensland University teaches you key skills, such as effective job searching, resume writing and interview techniques, to help you secure a job.
It is aimed at school leavers and graduates entering the job market for the first time but could also be useful to help job seekers improve their application success rate.
You will learn about the recruitment and selection process, how to respond to job postings, write engaging cover letters, develop your resume and prepare for an interview.
The course also covers transitioning into your new role.
The course has a duration of two weeks and requires two hours of study a week. It is self-paced, and you will have access for four weeks with a free Future Learn membership.
With a paid upgrade, you can receive an accompanying certificate of achievement.
This Introduction to Organizational Behavior course gives insight into how organizations operate and why. It seeks to cultivate an understanding of the behavior of your co-workers, juniors and managers, so you and your organization can work better.
The course covers key approaches, issues and the goals of organizational behavior, the roles and skills of effective managers, and organizational misbehavior.
The course has a duration of two weeks, and a study time of three hours a week is recommended, but you can learn at your own pace (within your four-week free access period).
The course is suitable for all levels but may be of particular use to individuals looking to develop their management skills.
A certificate of achievement is available with an upgrade costing £52 (around $70).
The online Speak English Professionally course offered by Georgia Tech aims to improve your professional communication in person, online and on the phone by developing your pronunciation, language fluency, vocabulary, body language and ability to read and respond appropriately to different situations.
You will learn how to introduce yourself to create a strong first impression, how to get meaningfully involved in group discussions, respond appropriately to requests, interview effectively, and give an engaging presentation or sales pitch.
The course is specifically recommended for non-English language speakers to help improve professional English language skills.
The course has a duration of five weeks and should take approximately 16 hours to complete.
You can enroll and take the course for free using the audit or free trial option on Coursera, but you will need to pay to receive a certificate of completion.
6. National University of Singapore – Effective Communication in the Globalized Workplace Specialization
The Effective Communication in the Globalized Workplace Specialization is aimed at individuals who are new to the workplace and seeks to improve international working by sharing key cultural and linguistic features of communication.
The specialization is comprised of the following five courses:
This course helps you to gain an awareness of cultural values when communicating and teaches you how to build relationships with global colleagues.
It aims to impart how to build a personal profile and cultivate a strong professional reputation.
This course has an approximate duration of 10 hours.
This course focuses on strengthening your professional relationships, both with co-workers and stakeholders.
You will learn how to effectively develop your network across diverse cultures and appreciate the complexities of organizational structure and hierarchy globally.
This course takes around nine hours to complete.
This course will give you the knowledge and tools to improve your persuasive communication.
The ability to be persuasive is important in a variety of workplace situations, from crafting email requests and giving presentations to securing a promotion or new job.
The course should take approximately nine hours to complete.
This course aims to help you to be confident and adaptable when communicating in cross-cultural environments. It focuses on improving your leadership and ability to communicate influence.
This course takes around 11 hours to complete.
To complete the full specialization you will need to complete this capstone project.
You will be required to produce a practical guide or handbook that demonstrates your understanding of the knowledge you have obtained through the courses. It should take approximately five hours to complete.
The full specialization is predicted to take five months to complete at a work pace of two hours of study a week.
If you take this course for free, you will be able to view and read the course content. If you pay, the experience includes teacher and cohort interaction, assignments and proof of completion.
The Teamwork and Collaboration course run by Rochester Institute of Technology teaches essential skills to help build, motivate and lead teams within the workplace.
You will also learn how to assess the effectiveness and success of your team and the tools to improve performance.
It features content on:
- Forming and developing a team
- Building, leading, organizing and motivating
- Managing conflict
- Collaborating across functions and disciplines
- Inter-personal relationship dynamics within teams
The course is aimed at an introductory level and is self-paced to fit with busy schedules. It has a duration of three weeks and a suggested study time of four to six hours per week.
A verified certificate to evidence your achievement can be purchased for £143 or around $200.
Coventry University’s Wellbeing at Work course introduces you to the importance of employee wellbeing and the positive and negative impacts the workplace can have upon your welfare.
It explores different definitions and theoretical approaches to wellbeing, which can be constructively applied to the workplace.
The course features content on:
- The historical context and definitions of wellbeing
- Theoretical approaches in occupational psychology
- The key issues around wellbeing (for employees and managers)
- An overview of factors that impact workplace wellbeing
The course has a duration of two weeks and a study time of three hours per week is suggested. You can work through the course material at your own pace.
To receive a certificate and access to the course for as long as it is featured on the Future Learn platform, you can upgrade for £52 or around $70.
This course in Professional Resilience offered by Deakin University seeks to improve your ability to cope with stress and challenge, so you can thrive within your workplace and beyond.
The course modules provide an overview of resilience and its importance, a step-by-step method to become more resilient, and guidance on building resilient capabilities, self-care practice and values.
The course has a duration of two weeks with a suggested weekly study time of three hours. It can be completed at your own pace but note that the free Future Learn membership will only allow access to the material for four weeks.
To receive a certificate, you can upgrade for £52 or around $70.
The online Foundations of Happiness at Work course, hosted by the University of California Berkeley, communicates why happiness at work is important and how it can be increased.
It focuses upon personal happiness as well as contentment across the organization as a whole.
The course covers the personal and professional advantages to workplace happiness, the barriers to achieving it, practical ways to improve happiness at work, and methods for evaluating happiness levels within your organization.
This self-paced course has a duration of four weeks and requires two to three hours of commitment each week.
On EDX, a certificate of achievement is available for £143 or around $200.
There is a wide range of free online courses available to help you improve your professional workplace skills, from effective and sensitive communication, building resilience, and improving your relationship building and management, to increasing wellbeing in the workplace.
The type of course best suited to you will depend upon your career level, workplace and the skills area you wish to develop.
Most courses are flexibly self-paced to fit around your busy schedule and proof of completion is available for an additional fee.
Regardless of the focus, investing in your professional skills is an extremely worthwhile endeavor.
Not only will the skills learned to boost your confidence in the workplace, but they will also increase your attractiveness to employers.
With all the above courses available for free, you only need to invest your time to significantly improve your career prospects.