Whiskey, Wellness, and Wisdom

with Matthew Bachman

woman sitting on bad in front of laptop with a cup of coffee.

For many of us, we’re stuck at home watching as COVID-19 rips through our country, putting our healthcare system and infrastructure to the test. Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, the county in which I live, was the latest in the list of counties added to Governor Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order. The likelihood that this is going to end soon is looking bleak. Life is getting more complicated every day, which is why it is going to be important to have a good game plan for when we get out of this and return to our jobs. For some that could mean catching up on their reading, while others may choose to take advantage of this time off to learn a new skill or two.

There are a multitude of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) out there offering a plethora of courses in various subjects. Some of these courses are free, some cheap, and others will drain your bank account; each one having their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage they all have is that they are not accredited courses, even if they are taught from an accredited college or university.

Considering that if you’re reading this, odds are you’ve been laid off or have had your hours severely cut, I will be leaving the more expensive platforms out such as edX and Coursera, which are easily two of the best websites for career development and if you have the cash, I highly suggest you check them out. However, for the purpose of this article I will be focusing on the two of the free alternatives: Alison and The Open Learning University.


Alison is a Massive Open Learning Community that was founded in 2007 in Ireland. It spans across 195 different countries with over 14 million users. Its core values are: Empowerment, Knowledge, Inclusivity, and Innovation.

Though, like many MOOC’s, it is not an accredited school, that does not mean the courses aren’t the real deal. As someone who has gone to college (twice) and taken career development courses at Pennsylvania College of Technology, I can confirm that the courses offered are the real deal. There isn’t homework or essays to be written that will reinforce the key concepts taught, like in a traditional college course, but rest assured that the information taught follows a traditional curriculum (more or less).

Each course is broken down into modules and there are tests that you must pass to be eligible for a certificate. There are two types of courses offered by Alison: certificate and diploma. A certificate course is an introduction to a field you may find yourself interested in. The courses can usually be completed 3 hours.

Their diploma courses are much more thorough, usually consisting of 3 or 4 certificate courses lumped together. These courses take about 8-10 hours to complete. This will give you the opportunity to learn more about a subject of interest, leading you down a path of discovering more diploma courses linked to your subject. For example, I am currently enrolled in their Diploma in Journalism course, which led me to also enrolling in their Diploma in Media Studies, and Diploma in Social Media Strategy courses.

There are some negatives to Alison, however. One of these negatives is the fact that you do have to pay for the certificate. The classes are free and the tests are free, but if you want a certificate to add to your portfolio, then you will have to dish out $19 for a downloadable pdf or $60 dollars if you want one that comes in a frame. Another negative is the fact that Alison does not have the branding that comes with well esteemed colleges, such as Warton School of Business or MIT, which offer career development courses on edX. They are still good to have on your resume to show prospective employers that you are eager to learn and develop your career, but a course from Harvard would be much more impressive looking on a resume.

All in all, Alison is a great free alternative to edX or Coursera and worth looking into. Even if you aren’t planning on developing your skills in your career, they have other course offerings such as digital photography and virology. There’s always time to learn!

The Opening Learning University

The Open Learning University is very much like Alison. They have a wide selection of courses that, again, mirror that of a college class. Like Alison, there is no homework or essays to be written. Some of the courses offered have quizzes mixed in, but not all of them.

Unlike Alison, however, this website has more to offer in the way of arts and humanities. They offer a 12 hour introductory course to fiction writing and even an 8 hour course in philosophy. There are also a lot of courses offered in career development as well. One thing I like about The Open Learning University is their inclusion of what they call Badged Courses, which are thorough classes specialized in advancing your education in a specific subject pertaining to your career. All badged courses come with a free downloadable badge of completion that you can share with your employers and on social media.

With the exception of the courses having a free downloadable certificate of completion (badge) unlike Alison, the negatives will be about the same. The certificate of completion is only going to be as valuable as your prospective employer puts into it. However, with the changing demand for career training and a wider acceptance of online learning, websites like Alison and The Open Learning University are starting to get more respect.


Being stuck at home during one of the worst crises in recent world history doesn’t mean you have sit at home binge watching Netflix. Use this as an opportunity to expand your knowledge. The courses are free and you obviously have the time, there are literally no excuses at this point. Get learning!

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