11 Sources of Free or Low-Cost Training

By Julie Rains on 9 January 2010 7 comments
Photo: mediaphotos

Being competitive often means being informed and knowledgeable about what’s new: products, technologies, business practices, legislation, industry happenings, competitive threats, and more. But getting and staying educated on the latest of everything can be expensive: industry certification programs and professional conferences can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

If your company doesn’t have a large budget for professional development, or if you want to explore less expensive options, here are some free or low-cost sources of training.

1. Vendor-sponsored training

Many vendors are equipped and willing to provide free onsite training for your employees. Sure, they’ll promote their products, but they can also provide valuable information on market trends and latest product features. And, if you’ve chosen a vendor to serve your company, then you’ll want to know as much as possible about appropriate product applications, installation techniques, etc.

2. Community College

Local community colleges often have abundant resources such as corporate training (classes in Six Sigma & Lean Manufacturing as well as human resources management and leadership development programs), workforce skills training, small business seminars (topics might include writing a business plan or how to use Twitter), and computer classes available through continuing education and curriculum divisions.

3. Professional Organizations

Many organizations present free or low-cost webinars in addition to their traditional courses available for a fee. Learn about “The Science of Search: Guiding Online Readers to Your Content” for $29.95 or how to write about science and health for free at News University, The Poynter Institute. For members, APICS offers free recorded webinars such as “Demand-Driven Manufacturing” and “Aligning Supply Chain and Financial KPIs.”

4. LinkedIn Events

Search for events by subject matter or location to find seminars, speaker presentations, and workshops. Many event organizers will charge a fee for admission but some won’t: check the price on the event listing or go to the event website to determine charges. Similar to vendor training, you may need to sift through sales pitches but hopefully you can glean some practical information from these sources.

5. Toastmasters

Join your local Toastmasters International group to help you or your employees develop presentation skills, which can be essential to making sales calls; explaining company performance to board members, bankers, media representatives, etc.; conveying the value of products and services to audiences at trade shows.

6. Colleges and Universities

Lecture series and short courses on contemporary topics are hosted by colleges and universities: some will help you keep pace with global events; others may aid in applying technology, such as a course on basics of digital photography. Also, check out free university courses delivered via the web.

7. Chamber of Commerce

Local chambers of commerce typically give workshops on business topics. They also may have resources (staff members or chamber members) that can help provide insight and guidance regarding business challenges.

8. Public Libraries

Local branch libraries might organize classes in computer technology, retirement planning, and foreign languages. University libraries may host lectures by researchers and thought leaders in their respective fields, such as online social media.

9. Book discussions

Form your own book group to discuss bestsellers in business or other topics relevant to your industry.

10. Cooperative Extension

Local agents of Cooperative Extension offices lead workshops and may provide consultations on topics such as emergency preparedness.

11. Your Own Employees

Many employees have a wealth of knowledge that may be used in day-to-day activities or shared briefly in meetings but largely goes untapped otherwise. Let employees transfer knowledge in lunch-n-learns or more formal training sessions.

To get started, define your training and development needs; next, explore opportunities that may be presented locally in face-to-face sessions as well as those delivered via the web, either live or on-demand (recorded). While some freebies or low-cost alternatives cover introductory rather than in-depth material, many simply offer tremendous value to a savvy business owner.

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Guest's picture

YouTube EDU is another great and free resource. There are many reputable colleges and universities, including Ivy League ones, with videos of lectures and seminars covering various topics. I've been very fond of UC Berkeley's online lectures before they were even on YouTube. Calculus anyone?

Guest's picture

WebinarHero is a free resource to find upcoming online events such as webinars, web conferences, webcasts, online education and training. Many of the events are free or are low cost training courses.

There are thousands of online events on hundreds of topics listed in the Searchable Webinar Calendar.

Search for online events right now at www.webinarhero.com.

Grace P.

Guest's picture

Great list--I would also say that the best resource of the list is probably investigating local universitites and colleges.

I was amazed at the number of free courses that were offered--and most were very relevant ones.

Great post

Guest's picture

Join an organization like The Red Cross or Boy Scouts. Both offer trainings at reduced costs and you end up with a place to practice some of them.

Guest's picture

FYI: Cooperative Extension took the "Cooperative" out of their name a few years ago. Guess their not cooperative anymore. :-)

Julie Rains's picture

The agencies I researched still go by the Cooperative name (see the link to Clemson's site) and North Carolina's site, for example. The land-grant universities have extensive offices at various sites throughout the state, and deliver workshops, seminars, etc.

Guest's picture

Great list. Gives new insight into good sources.