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10 Free Online Resources to Help Upgrade Your Career

10 Free Online Resources to Help Upgrade Your Career

We live in an amazing time. Within a few mouse clicks or screen taps, we can get the answer to almost any question we could possibly come up with. At any given time, we can reach into our pockets, pull out our phones, and start ourselves out on a quest for knowledge that could end up changing our lives. And, most amazingly, a staggering amount of this information is available completely free of charge. If you’ve been feeling stagnant in your job and want to start advancing your career, you can open up your web browser and head to the following pages:

1. Glassdoor

Glassdoor is a website that informs potential employees about the company they’re applying to work for. The information for each company on the site has been documented by previous and current employees, so users know they are getting first-hand data from reputable sources. Glassdoor gives information regarding positions offered by the company, starting and average salary rates, and anecdotal information regarding interviews and the quality of past employee experiences. Use Glassdoor when conducting a job hunt to be sure you’re applying for a job that’s right for you.

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2. Khan Academy

Khan Academy offers lectures on a variety of subjects, at a variety of difficulty levels, as well as practice questions, exercises, and exams for users to test their knowledge and comprehension of each topic. These tests are individualized, meaning the barrage of questions asked is tailored to a user’s specific understanding of content. Using Khan Academy, you can learn anything from basic arithmetic to advanced calculus, the fundamentals of computer science, to advanced programming.

3. Coursera and edX

Both Coursera and edX are well-known databases for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). On each of these sites, students can find actual college-level courses on almost any subject imaginable. MOOCs have taken the Internet by storm due to their accessibility and flexibility. MOOCs usually consist of a combination of video lectures, reading materials, and assignments. However, you can engage in the MOOC as much, or as little, as you like. MOOCs often create learning communities consisting of thousands of students all over the world, so taking full advantage of forums will allow for maximum exposure to a variety of viewpoints, and will expand your thoughts and ideas much more than sitting in a lecture hall throughout a semester could ever hope to do.

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4. Codecademy

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to program, but are intimidated by the prospect of learning a seemingly alien language, you’re not alone. But Codecademy is an incredibly helpful resource that will help you learn programming languages such as JavaScript, and Python. The interactive lessons are scaffolded so you will learn the basics first, then use those fundamental skills to complete projects and activities. By the end of your first session, you’ll have learned enough to create a basic website, and be able to build upon your learning from there.

5. Learnvest

While not everything that Learnvest has to offer is free, the site offers a variety of articles and blog posts which have been curated from all corners of the Internet. Learnvest offers information regarding all aspects of life, from college and career readiness to lifestyle decisions such as weddings, home improvement, and travel. One of the most intriguing sections relates to the ‘Psyche of Money”, which analyzes societal views on money, expenses, and savings.

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6. Investopedia

I’ll be honest: I’m pretty clueless about money. After I finish writing this, I’m going to spend some time on Investopedia, so I can finally wrap my head around this whole Greece situation and increase my understanding of retirement savings. If you’ve wanted to dive into the world of stocks, bonds, and all things money-related, Investopedia offers money management tips, a stock simulator, and tutorials and exam tips for financial analyst certifications.

7. Y Combinator Startup Library

If you’ve ever thought of starting a business, check out the Startup Library. Y Combinator offers long-form articles full of tips on how to start and build a business, and what to do once you get the ball rolling. The Library also offers links to tools to help grow your business, and other organizations that will help develop your entrepreneurial knowledge. Y Combinator has funded over 800 startup companies in the past 10 years, so the advice given in these blog posts can be taken seriously. Thankfully, it’s free!

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8. Duolingo

At a time in which we can communicate with almost any person in the entire world online, many people naturally yearn to gain the ability to understand and speak a variety of languages. Duolingo allows users to take full courses which focus on over 20 languages, including Spanish, French, Polish…and Klingon. Members of Duolingo also are privy to a community of learners who can collaborate with each other on various projects and lessons in order to enhance their learning. Most beneficial, however, is Duolingo’s immersion section, which provides real-world tasks in the language being studied, with no assistance. The best way to learn a new language is to dive right in!

9. Bartleby

Bartleby offers full versions of well-known books and works of literature from various points in history. From Voltaire, to Scott Fitzgerald, to Chaucer, Bartleby offers something for everyone looking to get a taste of culture into their life. Also available are historical non-fiction texts and reference books which offer first-hand insights into different eras of human history. It’s incredible how much Bartleby has to offer, considering the site is named after a famous character who preferred to do nothing.

10. Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is similar to Bartleby, but implements a wiki formula while offering ebooks and texts. Gutenberg’s focus is on classic literature. Over 49,000 classic works, to be more precise. With Project Gutenberg, you can check out Kafka, Cervantes, and Whitman all in one spot. And you can download each in HTML format, or as an ebook that can be read using a Kindle or the Kindle app on your smartphone. The bad news is that if you’re a high school student, now your English teacher has a backup plan for the times when you “left your book at home.”

Featured photo credit: Flickrr via farm8.staticflickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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