How the self-education industry is impacting freelancers

Apparently, online education is on the rise. Online education is a broad term that includes courses, coaching, masterclasses, and everything that allows you to learn something new or upskill through the internet, versus physically going to school.

There are lots of factors why experts project that the self-education industry would grow to $121.85 billion by 2025. One of those is the fact that people now want to learn from experts themselves rather than take a whole course in school. If there’s an option to learn from someone who has done it, someone who tried, failed, and succeeded, why not, right?

The growing industry of self-education

Self-education is not a new trend. MOOC or massive open online courses became popular in 2012, only four years after it was first introduced. Soon after, online coaching started popping up everywhere on the internet. From life coach to business coach, there seems to be a coach for every field, industry, and aspect of life.

It was reported that in 2016, online learning in the US alone was valued at $27 billion. Same report says the estimated year-over-year growth for 2020 was 9.8% and in 2026, the global learning market would be worth $735 billion. These figures are just for online courses; also called the eLearning market.

When it comes to online coaching, there are huge numbers too. Life coaching in the US has an estimated market size of $1.2 billion in 2022 and business coaching is at $14.2 billion. Clearly, self-learning or what Forbes calls “knowledge industry” is on the rise. And it seems like growth is a continuous trend for it.

Why freelancers are more keen to learn from experts than from traditional schools

Does this mean today’s entrepreneurs and creatives are more keen on self-learning and self-education? Do we now opt for something more focused and specialized? Could be! While traditional schools are still great, reliable avenues, freelancers tend to choose to learn from experts themselves.

“I took Stefan Palios’ Growth Blueprint Sales Course last year to learn about marketing, how to conduct a sales call more successfully, and generally operate with more of a business owner mentality,” shares freelance writer Erin Laviola. While Laviola already has a degree and relevant work experience, she says, “I had no training in how to *sell* my services.” “I don’t think paying for a traditional school, to get a marketing degree, was necessary because I was not looking for a full-time marketing or sales job,” she noted, adding that, “as freelancers, I believe online courses and coaches can help fill in the gaps in our educational journeys.”

For travel writer Kimberley Lovato, the value of hiring a mentor was, “immeasurable.” “MFA programs are very expensive so you have to be sure it’s the path you want. I feel the money I am getting by hiring a mentor is getting me exactly what I want, without the peripheral time suck of homework assignments, reading 15 books a month, and meeting twice a year that the MFA demanded,” she added. Lovato enrolled in a low residency MFA program to help with her career goal of writing children’s books. Later, she realized it wasn’t for her and ended up hiring a mentor instead.

“Self-learning industry has always been there for freelancers, but the industry has become very competitive. By finding a way to specialize in something, or take another path like I am, [it] extends the life of freelance work,” she shares.

Different options for self-learning

People often say everything’s on YouTube these days, and I totally agree. From doing a no-bake cheesecake to learning how to code, I’m pretty sure there’s a solid YouTube video for that, making it one of the most popular free avenues for self-learning. While not everything on YouTube is credible, there are tons of great resources there. And it’s one of the most common go-to places for creatives to educate themselves about a new skill.

Another option is enrolling in a masterclass. Masterclasses are great for freelancers and creatives who want to branch out and learn a new skill or improve their skills. These tend to be expensive because they are taught by credible industry experts. But they can be solid investments. Masterclasses come in video form and are known to be in-depth and hyper-focused. So if you want to learn something very specific, like how to write personal essays that sell, find a masterclass offered by an expert essayist from reputable platforms like MasterClass.

If you want something more chill, there are other online courses out there. Some courses are self-paced while others are not. And what sets online courses apart from a masterclass is that they’re not necessarily super in-depth. They can be some sort of primer to a new field or skill. But, just like a masterclass, online courses come with workbooks, which help as supplementary learning tools.

The rise of online coaching

Online coaching is also trending these days, and for a reason—it can be quite effective and helpful! If you chose the right coach, you can really build the necessary skills to improve and grow your freelance business!

Jenny Stallard describes it as a “one on one, or a small group, coming together via software such as Zoom, to spend time looking at their  goals, values, and plans.” Stallard, an ACC accredited coach, focuses on working with self-employed and freelance folks. “The benefits of being coached online are, of course, that it can be done worldwide. I feel there is also an element of extra learning, because the coach can focus on the session, and the clients are focused, too,” she shares.

When asked about why people are drawn to coaching, Stallard says, “I think there are two types of people – the ones who are still quite skeptical about coaching, and the ones who are ‘converts’. I’m a coaching ‘evangelist’ but that’s because I’ve seen the power of coaching as a coach and being coached.” She describes coaching as something that can help you, “work out where you want to pivot to, and how, which then means you can focus on the upskill, not the ‘what’ or ‘why’.”

Stallard further adds that “upskilling isn’t always about the skill, it can also be about the bravery to go for it,” and I have to say, I just love that! As a freelancer, bravery can sometimes be elusive. “We have to go for it in our own time—coaching can build the foundations for the confidence to do that, from social media skills to a whole new career pivot,” she adds.

Always be hungry to learn

At the end of the day, it’s all about the willingness to learn. It’s all about the desire to grow, improve, and seek some sort of challenge. Schools are great. Taking another full course is great. But it’s not for everyone. Sometimes, what we need is something more tailor-made and focused. This is where the self-education industry enters the picture. Freelancing can be stagnant if you let it. Always be hungry to learn and it can help your freelance business grow in ways you may have never imagined.

Tammy Danan
Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.