By Margo Bartsch, Contributor

Education is known as being the key to success. However, the pandemic has changed the way we think about learning and interaction. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to try online learning as a low-risk environment to potentially unlock new skills. The journalist Perri Ormoni Blumberg wrote an August article, “Whatever your major, include these must-have college courses for career success” in the New York Post. Blumberg reviewed the course catalogue at Columbia University and noticed a trend toward skill-based classes. Whatever your age, there are three convenient ways to explore skill-based careers by taking online college courses, subscribing to MasterClass and listening to Ted Talks. Success might include discovering untapped opportunities.

First, online college courses are increasing in variety and accessibility. Just listen to the radio to hear UVM and Champlain College advertisements about online classes, certificate options and degree programs. Many classes are designed specifically for online learning, while some are adapted from in-person instruction. Also, high school dual-enrollment online courses continue to grow in popularity, enabling students to take classes for free or at reduced cost and later request to transfer credits to other colleges.

Blumberg highlights some core courses that are a good fit for online learning. The introductory courses in marketing/branding and statistics address two relevant subjects for everyday success. For example, with the ubiquity of social media and the growth of influencers, creating your own brand is important to develop your resume or monetize your TikTok followers. As for statistics, the role of data helps to understand trends, foster inquiry and practice analysis. Statistics focuses on the interrelationship among variables that can help to make more informed decisions. When choosing classes, the syllabus typically lists whether the course relies on a textbook and has instructional support such as online test banks. These educational resources can supplement the professor’s curriculum and encourage group or individual projects.

Second, subscribing to MasterClass lectures taught by expert instructors with real-world experience and/or academic expertise can help apply critical thinking skills and expand a world view. These pre-recorded lectures cover a range of topics from cooking with international chef and restauranteur Gordon Ramsey to writing with Shonda Rhimes, the TV creator, writer and producer of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.” By expanding knowledge outside of traditional interests, students can broaden their outlook and become more open minded.

In building a resume and having memorable interviews, it is important to talk about a range of topics in an engaging fashion to help differentiate the candidate. Blumberg mentions courses in English as essential to communicating both in writing and verbally, as well as “Designing Your Life” classes that unlock creativity and probe the process of decision-making. Employers look to hire a range of candidates with diverse personalities, skill sets and experiences.

Third, listening to Ted Talks is a quick way to learn about accomplished people and new perspectives. Their tagline is “Ideas Worth Spreading.” In fact, the UVM undergraduate application previously had a 500-word essay prompt asking to develop a Ted Talk title, create a lecture and write about your interest.

Ted Talks are like a “test drive” to expose the listener to experts in professional fields, who share a short story about their journey. Blumberg includes both Personal Finance and Graphic Design as important courses for successful careers. However, these specific classes can be intimidating without understanding why they are interesting to study.

It is easy to look up topics on Ted Talks. For example, searching for “personal finance” includes a lecture by John Doerr, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, who has an 11-minute talk titled “Why the Secret to Success is Setting the Right Goals.” His informative insights reposition personal finance with a result-driven angle. In searching for graphic design, Stefan Sagmeister has a range of talks with compelling topics such as “The Power of Time Off” and “Happiness by Design.” These talks highlight the creative role of graphic design in mind, body and spirit. Overall, Ted Talks are a unique way to practice the lost art of listening that could lead to discovery of potential new interests.

Learning is an ongoing process with twists and turns along the way. Online options make it easier to build new skills without investing a lot of time or resources. By exploring new fields, the knowledge gained can be potentially life changing. Success involves pursuing the passion of new ideas. Try it, you might like it!

Margo Bartsch founded College Essay Coach, a full-service college admission business, and has been an adjunct professor in business at Champlain College and at Middlebury College.