To advance to the next step in your career, it's important that you keep yourself educated. No matter how bad the economy gets, there will always be a need for people with strong technical skills; keep yours on the cutting edge and you'll be able to gain a major advantage over other job seekers. Unfortunately, attaining new certifications or academic degrees can be prohibitively expensive.
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The good news is if you're not ready to make a big financial investment, there are baby steps available to help keep you on your toes. Check out these eight online options that can help you learn a new skill for free.

1. Mozilla Drumbeat's School of Webcraft

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This program gives new meaning to the expression "learn from your peers". School of Webcraft is a peer to peer service that provides free online courses in programming and web development. Instructors are industry professionals who volunteer to teach courses, and students can include anyone and everyone. In the past, topics have included HTML5, FireFox add-on development and introduction to PHP. These web programming skills are applicable and relevant to today's job market. You can even recommend courses that you'd like to see.

2. SPSS Video Tutor
Jacob Mays is the market researcher who developed SPSS Video Tutor as a free resource for students and professionals who are struggling to learn this high-demand software. For those who are unfamiliar with SPSS, the program is widely used in consulting, market research and academia. While the program itself is expensive, there is an open source equivalent - PSPP - that has many of the same functionalities. As long as you're clever and creative, you should be able to apply the SPSS video tutorials to PSPP as well.

3. YouTube
While you might enjoy YouTube for its viral videos, you may not realize how valuable the service is for educational materials. For instance, if you're trying to become better-acquainted with Microsoft Excel, you'll likely find some helpful video resources from amateurs and professional instructors alike.

4. Open Source Software
If you've looked at job descriptions recently, you've probably noticed the demand for skills in various types of software. There's so much software out there, so it's impossible for one person to master them all. And, while you may want to teach yourself some programs, you probably don't have the money to spend to buy and use the software. Instead, find open source equivalents to your favorite software. For instance, you could look at Open Analytics for web data. You could also use QGIS as an alternative to ArcGIS, which is a program for creating maps for various types of research. If you're into statistics, you can use R instead of SAS if you want to enhance your statistical programming skills.

In a job interview, being familiar with these open source programs, what they are and how they work could be enough to help you get a job that involves using their paid equivalents - even if only because you put in the effort to learn them.

5. A Library Card
Instead of buying books to help you learn new job skills, borrow them. You'll learn the same skills without spending the extra money.

As an industry professional, you've probably come to value your peers - working as a team can produce amazing results. If you thrive on mentorship and learning from those around you, you stand to benefit from meeting new people and expanding your career network. Check out, a network of local groups (career and otherwise) to connect with like-minded professionals in your area. If there isn't a group available where you live yet, consider starting your own.

The Bottom Line
There are plenty of ways to learn and advance your skill set without the expense of heading back to school. Check out these resources to increase your competitive edge and value in the job market.

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