Busy people rarely have time to hone their technical and business skills, yet it's critical to stay ahead of the curve. The solution? Online training.
With most E-learning courses, you can proceed at your own pace in your own time (though a few instructor-led classes have fixed schedules). You can review material during a coffee break, or spend time on the laptop while your spouse is engrossed in a television show you can't stand.
There are free training options, and some courses will even provide a credential or certificate to hang on your wall, while others provide the curriculum necessary to later pass a certification exam at an accredited testing agency.
Whether you learn best by reading, listening or watching video - and you can find out at Learning Styles Online - there's is probably something that will suit your style.
Adobe offers video training on Adobe TV. The video clips are short (the longest Learning Acrobat clip, for example, is just over 10 minutes), and provide information in conveniently-sized nibbles that fit tidily into a coffee break. In addition, the Adobe Communities learning page has links to tutorials, help and support, as well as both free and paid training.
The software giant offers an amazing collection of material, much of it free. For guided hands-on time with products ranging from Windows to SharePoint, visit the free Virtual Labs. Hosted at Microsoft, so you don't need to install anything (you access it through a browser), each module gives you a block of time with the technology, a scenario to navigate and training materials to help you do so. The product you're working with is live, although you can't save or print. You get a true picture of how it works, and you're not locked into the scenario's script but can poke around the app or operating system on your own. Virtual Labs are also handy if you're evaluating new technology.
Microsoft Office is usually high on training wish lists as well. You can dive into free modules about Office 2003, 2007 and 2010 on the Office site. If you want some entertainment while you learn, check out Ribbon Hero, a free game that teaches how to use the interface, a.k.a. the ribbon, in Office 2007 and higher. Microsoft also offers paid courses in the Classroom.
An economical way to gain access to a lot of content is a subscription to CBT Nuggets. A single concurrent license to its streaming content will cost about $1,534 (USD$1,599) to access training videos for Microsoft products (including certification curricula), Cisco, the Computing Technology Industry Association, project management, programming and databases, IT management, security and other topics. Single topic material is also available, but the concurrent user license to the full suite of streaming content is a great buy, especially if several employees share it. There's a link to a free trial on the site, so you can sample a course before spending any money.
Training institutes like Global Knowledge also provide online versions of some of their classroom courses.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT's Sloan School of Management provides course materials for a range of classes, from aeronautics to architecture to psychology and accounting, via its MITOpenCourseware site at both undergraduate and graduate levels. You won't get academic credit for the classes, but it's a cool place to learn about all sorts of interesting things, and it's free.
American Management Association
The AMA offers online management training through its FlexStudy site. Individual classes cost less than $100, and certificates for five or six courses in areas like general management and customer satisfaction management cost $390.
Canadian Management Centre
This group also offers paid online classes and a collection of free resources focused on management, leadership, communications, project management, HR and training.
HP has a site dedicated to free online training. While much of the available material is consumer-oriented - scrapbooking, anyone? - visitors will find courses on Microsoft and Adobe software, and PC maintenance and security.
The curious have many more options. Most universities and colleges have E-learning curricula. Check their websites for more information.