Ben Woodhead Deputy editor - digital

Ben Woodhead is deputy editor - digital at the Financial Review Group. He writes on business, technology, politics and the economy and can be found on BRW, The Australian Financial Review and Smart Investor.

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Free online courses for entrepreneurs

Published 11 September 2012 06:17, Updated 12 September 2012 06:13

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Free online courses for entrepreneurs

Hallowed halls ... Learnings from leading institutions such as Harvard University are no longer off limits to entrepreneurs who can’t afford to enrol. Photo: Greg Newington

The tyranny of distance presents challenges for many Australian and Kiwi entrepreneurs, but getting access to business courses from some of the world’s leading colleges and universities is no longer one of them. What’s more, it can often be done for free.

Opening up the new world for entrepreneurs on both sides of the Tasman are websites such as Udacity, edX and Coursera, which offer free access to courses from some of the world’s leading tertiary institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Stanford University.

The courses are proving wildly popular, with The New York Timesreporting in August last year that 58,000 students signed up for a course offer by two Silicon Valley experts. As the NYT notes, that’s nearly four times the size of Stanford’s entire student body.

Entrepreneurs who take the free courses won’t get a qualification, but they do gain access to some of the best educational brains on the planet.

Singaporean website sgentrepreneurs.com has trawled through some of the courses on Udacity, edX and Coursera to come up with a few it thinks are particularly helpful for start-ups:

  • How to build a start-up: Taught be retired Silicon Valley entrepreneur and thought leader Steve Blank, “This course aims to cover from a lean startup perspective all the concepts entrepreneurs need to know to run a successful technology business,” sgentrepreneurs says. Would-be students beware, this 9-lecture course starts on September 14.
  • Technology entrepreneurship: Stanford University’s entire series about tech entrepreneurship, featuring guest lecturers from top Silicon Valley tech companies and venture capital firms, available for free on YouTube.
  • Introduction to computer science: Ever wanted to build your own search engine? This course professes to teach students how in seven weeks, while introducing them to the Python programming language.
  • Gamification: Offered by the University of Pennsylvania on Coursera, Gamification “explores the application of digital game design techniques to non-game problems, such as business and social challenges,” the course blurb says. “Game thinking means more than just dropping in badges and leaderboards; it requires a thoughtful understanding of motivation and design techniques. This course examines the mechanisms of gamification and provides an understanding of its effective use.”
  • Healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship: One of the biggest issues facing Western countries are their ageing populations. Efficient healthcare solutions are a must for dealing with this problem. Coming from Duke University via Coursera, this course promises to school students in “the innovation process, design thinking, “intrapreneurship,” entrepreneurship, six sigma principles of process improvement, regulatory issues, patent law, and the market forces that impact the healthcare innovation process”.

Online learning resources don’t end there either, with sites such as the Khan Academy offering coaching, as well as access to the types of problems prospective Google and Apple employees are expected to be able to solve.

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