Many freelancers have a niche; a specific area of expertise. But without a boss to decide our skills need updating or our knowledge needs broadening, it can be easy to let our skills become stale, falling behind the times and allowing our niche to shrink.

Professional Development

In this, as with every aspect of our working lives, we freelancers are our own bosses. We have to take responsibility for keeping our skills fresh, increasing our expertise and broadening our knowledge. But we also have responsibility for the training budget…

The good news is that although some training courses will always come at a cost, there are a growing number that you can do for free. Let’s take a quick look at two sources of free training.


OpenLearn is the brainchild of the Open University. There are around 1000 courses and they’re available immediately – there’s no start or end date, and when you begin them is up to you. This handy list allows you to browse all the course titles, categorised into topic areas, and see at a glance how many hours of study they’re estimated to require and what level they are:

  • Level 1 Introductory: For those new to a subject, explaining the basic and essential concepts of the topic.
  • Level 2 Intermediate: For those with some familiarity with a subject who want to know more.
  • Level 3 Advanced: For those who want to gain a more critical understanding of a subject and take their learning further.

Some courses focus on academic subjects, while others help you develop study skills (reading and finding information, writing and English, maths and data, digital and online skills, organisation skills).

Critical and analytical or work skills (money and finance, project planning, digital communication, career leadership and management).

Some courses offer a statement of participation plus a digital badge which can be displayed on digital profiles, portfolios and social media as evidence of continuing professional development or commitment to study. These badges are awarded if you complete all sections of a course and pass the assessments.

The Open University team who produce these badged courses were finalists in The Times Higher Education Awards 2015 for ‘Outreach project of the year’ and Winner of the Open Education Consortium Creative Innovation Award in 2016.

Their free courses may give you a taste for studying a qualification with them. 


FutureLearn is based on a similar concept to OpenLearn, but it is a joint enterprise developed my leading universities around the world.

Again, there is an extensive range of courses, covering business and management, creative arts and media, nature and environment, politics and the modern world, literature, health and psychology, science, engineering and maths, law, history, tech and coding, teaching, languages and cultures, and study skills.

However, FutureLearn courses not as flexible as those offered by OpenLearn.  All FutureLearn courses have a series of specific start dates throughout the year and a specified course length. Another difference is that they are not categorised by difficulty level – you will have to look at the course title, description, length and hours per week required to decide if it’s suitable for you.

There’s a little more to it, though. This year, FutureLearn brought in an upgrade scheme. This allows to pay a fee (ranging from £24 and £69, depending on the course) to get unlimited access to the course for as long as it exists on FutureLearn, access to any available tests and a certificate (providing you meet the eligibility criteria).

There are also ‘programs’ available. These enable you to master a subject in depth and consist of a series of courses. Some will award you academic credit or professional accreditation providing you pass each course at a certain level.

FutureLearn even offer a limited range of masters degrees and graduate certificates on a pay-as-you-go basis.


So, why not hone your skills and broaden your horizons? Your freelancing career will be all the better for it!



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