With the new coronavirus still around and the majority of people still working from home in 2021, taking online courses to further your studies and boost your career remains your best option in 2021. With travel still complicated, and most people avoiding travelling for further courses and training, 2021 will see the uptake of online courses continuing to increase as it did in 2020 when many professionals chose to acquire some extra skills and knowledge from the web. You have probably heard people talking about Coursera on social media, especially people sharing their certificates after completing their courses. Coursera is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) provider, founded in 2012 in the U.S. by Stanford University’s computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. The platform offers short courses, specialisations, degrees, professional and master track courses and more. It became even more popular during the Covid-19 outbreak as people looked out for alternatives to hone their skills further, as universities and colleges shut doors during the lockdown. Bob Rutarindwa, Head of Communications at Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB), has been encouraging people to take up short courses, especially on Coursera. Bob Rutarindwa is the Head of Communications at Rwanda Convention Bureau (RCB). Courtesy. He says 2021 offers an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that many will still work at home this year due to Covid-19, to find online courses to do. “I think this is the appropriate time to do online courses or try to learn a new skill. Particularly because the pandemic created redundant time for many people,” he says. “Working from home definitely cuts out a chunk of time which was consumed in offices. There’s no better time to learn a new skill with the free time the pandemic has rendered. Without a doubt, the practice will be even more relevant in 2021,” Rutarindwa adds. He was able to take two courses in digital marketing and another one in the digital world and digital media and marketing strategies. Both are key courses for communication and marketing professionals. Each of these takes four weeks to complete. Coursera courses last approximately 4 to 12 weeks, with one to two hours of video lectures a week. The courses provide quizzes, weekly exercises, peer-graded and reviewed assignments, and optional honours assignments and sometimes, a final project or exam to complete the course. Courses are also provided on-demand, in which case users can take their time in completing the course with all of the material available at once. The cost ranges from $29 and $100, depending on the type of course and demand. “I think studying online is the way to go if we are talking about coping with the new normal. You see in the early days of Covid-19, with lockdown and travel restrictions, it was impossible to move and go to schools/universities, so online was the only option,” says Pamela Mudakikwa, a communication specialist and proponent of online studies. Pamela Mudakikwa is a communication specialist and proponent of online studies. “Even now with the restrictions becoming relatively flexible, it is hard to predict what will happen next, besides, no one wants to take unnecessary risks travelling and going to riskier places,” she adds. Mudakikwa says online education will definitely still be relevant even after the pandemic because minimum movement and limiting social contacts will still be important. “Also, with ‘staying home’ I think people endeavoured to find ways to keep themselves busy; pursuing their academic ambitions was one of them. Luckily, such opportunities were made available,” she says. She did five short courses via Coursera, paying around $50 for the very first one before she learned about a scholarship opportunity offered by the Commonwealth Of Learning in partnership with Rwanda Telecenter Network (RTN) and Rwanda Development Board (RDB). Mudakikwa took courses related to communications and human rights and, she has also gone on to enrol for an MBA, which she is starting this month. She used between 7 and 12 weeks to do the short courses, but she says one can use less time. Still relevant Online learning will be much more relevant in 2021 than it was last year, as most people continue to adapt to doing things online, mainly due to the fact that the pandemic limits physical contact and physical classes in this case, as much as possible. Abdulrahman Niyonizeye, the founder and CEO of Smart Class Rwanda, an online learning platform, took advantage of the Covid-19 situation with the platform www.smartclass.rw that connects high school students who are learning similar academic subjects across the country. From his own experience, Niyonizeye affirms that the platform they created is a sign that online learning will be more relevant than ever in 2021. Abdulrahman Niyonizeye, the founder and CEO of Smart Class Rwanda. Courtesy. “Online learning will still be vital because the need to learn is still there and it has been proven that one can learn online and become a professional in certain careers,” he says, giving an example of Element, one of the leading music producers in Rwanda at the moment, as an example. Elee, as he is commonly referred to, acquired his skills online. “Smart Class Rwanda is tangible proof that learning online will still be relevant in 2021 since Covid-19 made us think the other way round! We are still helping high school students learn from their desired place and it’s proved to be efficient,” he says. Smart Class Rwanda helps Rwanda Education Board (REB) to programme lessons and they have started a short course on the basics of programming. With the pandemic still around, Niyonizeye says many people are still losing their jobs and some will be forced to shift to other careers. He believes that one of the faster and cheaper approaches for someone wishing to switch careers is taking online courses. Niyonizeye explains that taking a course on Coursera, for example, is time-efficient because you study at your own pace and choose timings. “For example, I took a course that had 48 hours and I completed the course within a month because I adjusted it easily within my agenda. For a particular course, I paid $60, but payment is usually optional, especially if you want a certificate in the end,” he says. Benefits of online learning According to the website, Small Business Sense, the Covid-19 outbreak led to the flourishing of online education as students could not go to school and professionals wanted to use the time available to them at home to acquire some additional skills. Among the benefits of online learning is flexibility, where one sets the schedule that fits their agenda. As a result, using an online educational platform allows for a better balance of work and studies, so there’s no need to give anything up. Studying online teaches you vital time management skills, which makes finding a good work-study balance easier. Having a common agenda between the student and teacher can also prompt both parties to accept new responsibilities and have more autonomy. It also turns out that online degrees are more affordable. You can save a lot of money when undertaking an online programme. Accessibility is also key because online education enables you to study or teach from anywhere in the world. This means there’s no need to commute from one place to another or follow a rigid schedule. On top of that, not only do you save time, but you also save money, which can be spent on other priorities. You can also develop important skills while studying online such as self-discipline, self-motivation and communication. When you’re an online learner, you’ll find that you will quickly hone and develop these skills which are important for your career. Online learning allows for a customised learning experience but setting it up the way it suits you, which confirms the flexibility mentioned earlier. Give it a shot, you will not regret it.