The best online courses for self-improvement this lockdown


K, this year hasn’t started the way we’d hoped, but there are silver linings to finding ourselves at home again. 

This time round, we know what we’re doing (more running at lunch, fewer Zoom quizzes), which frees up space for new activities. If we have to be cooped up for the first few months of the year, we may as well do something useful with it. That guitar gathering dust at the back of the wardrobe? A chance to dig it out. That children’s book you told yourself you’d start in lockdown 1.0? Third time lucky. 

From (finally) learning to fix a puncture, to perfecting your handstand, this is your ultimate self-improvement guide.  

Learn a language

Complete Spanish course: Busuu

That post-pandemic gap year won’t be much use if you can’t mix with the locals. During the first lockdown, one in five Londoners committed to teaching themselves a new language; app Busuu has 12 on offer. Research proves that practicing in 10-minute chunks is the most effective way to let a language sink in, so add the app (and its sister podcast) to your weekday repertoire and track your progress with the  in-app study plan. You’ll be done by breakfast.  

USP: Pandemic pen-pals — Spanish natives will offer real-time feedback on your work, as long as you’re prepared to return the favour.  

Perfect your pastries

Full butter croissant and puff pastry workshop: Bread Ahead

Your housemates might be sick of sourdough but wait until they wake up to freshly baked butter croissants on Sunday morning. In this two-and-a-half-hour Zoom workshop, Bread Ahead’s expert bakers will teach you how to bake croissants, puff pastry and almond frangipane cream from home with simple kitchen utensils. No specialist equipment is required, a workbook and ingredients list will be emailed at least two days before the workshop starts. Bakers, your time starts now.  

USP: Bargain! Tickets are reduced from £25 to £10 until the end of January.

Saddle up

Beginner bike maintenance course: International Open Academy  

That shiny new road bike you got last lockdown? Time to stop thanking your lucky stars you haven’t had a puncture yet and learn how to fix one — you know it’ll happen when you’re far from home in Richmond Park. The International Open Academy’s basics course is currently reduced to £15 from £119 and includes 30 hours of maintenance and repair tutorials to do at home in your own time. Modules range from replacing a flat tyre to taking care of your chain and there’s a short multiple-choice exam at the end of each one.  

USP: Pass each module to earn an official bike maintenance certificate.  

Crack the code

Five day coding challenge: Code Institute

Code Institute claims you can learn to build your own web page in just five days, and still do your day job. The site’s free coding challenge takes just one hour a day and each session will challenge you to a new task, from understanding the basics of JavaScript to adding style to your page with CSS.  

USP: Text speak — you’ll be talking HTML and CSS in less than a week.  

Put your hands up

Handstand Zoom class: Handstandman

A new skill doesn’t have to involve complicated vocab lessons. In times of crisis, psychologists say being playful can boost physical and mental health, and months at home is a perfect opportunity to strengthen up and nail your handstand — you need zero equipment and no one has to see you when you tumble into a hot mess on the living room floor. For expert coaching, try a 60-minute Zoom class from Blok trainer and self-described “handstand man” David Rutherfoord. Each at-home workshop takes 12 participants through a series of balance and overhead mobility exercises, or you can book a semi-private session for you and just two others.

USP: Start tonight — Rutherfoord’s handstand school takes place on Monday and Thursday evenings.  

( Getty Images )

Add a new string

Learn to play guitar: Fender Play

Led Zepplin and 750,000 others can’t be wrong: Fender isn’t just the frontman of guitar manufacturing, it’s also a pretty handy instructor. The guitar maker’s online learning school, Fender Play, offered subscribers three free months of guitar, bass or ukelele lessons over lockdown 1.0 and its user base rocketed six-fold. You can now subscribe for just £9.99 a month. Songs by Billie Eilish, Ed Sheeran and The Beatles are among rehearsal tracks and you can track your progress using the free guitar learning app. Users say they learnt to play Van Halen’s Eruption in just a week.

USP: Subscribe and receive a 10 per cent discount on all guitar gear.  £9.99 a month,  

Know your data

Data science A-Z: Udemy  

Want to get rich quick? Become a data scientist. According to jobs site Indeed, data modellers were the highest-paid earners in the UK in 2020, and the good news is online teaching platform Udemy claims you can learn the basics in 21 hours. Its data science bootcamp features lessons on cleaning and preparing your data for analysis, performing basic visualisation and how to model your data. The bad news? You’ll experience first-hand the pain a data scientist goes through on a daily basis, from corrupt data to anomalies.  

USP: Tutor Kirill Eremenko has written two books on data skills for follow-up reading.

( Curtis Brown )

Novel ideas

Starting to write your novel: Curtis Brown Creative

You rolled your eyes at those who wrote a book during the first lockdown but this time, why not join the gang? God knows the last 12 months have offered plenty of inspiration (and free evenings). They say starting is the hardest part, so try calling in a helping hand to get you in gear: Curtis Brown’s six-week starting to write your novel course starts on Thursday. It aims to help you develop your idea, plan out your story and get writing and you’ll receive expert advice on assignments from its in-house editors.

USP: Help from heroes — Guardian columnist and five-time author Anna David leads the lessons.

Go figure

Drawing foundations: figure, LinkedIn Learning  

The upside of life drawing from home is you can learn from the best without a snooty art tutor looking over your shoulder. LinkedIn Learning’s figure-drawing class is led by Amy Wynne, a fine arts professor at America’s Clark University and is open to beginners or intermediates who fancy a refresh. She will break down a classical approach to figure drawing in simple steps: capturing gesture, structure and form, understanding the landmarks of the body, drawing proportionally and adding volume with shapes and shadows. It’s filmed in a professional art studio and  provides worksheets and sample poses to practice in your own time.

USP: Wynne holds an MFA in painting from the New York Academy of Art.  

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