Best Tools to Learn New Content Creation Skills

For an artist, it is common to use more than one medium. The sculptor dabbles in painting, and the graphic artist has tried her hand at fashion design.

Creativity easily crossed mediums — in fact, exploring a new skill can bring inspiration back to a person’s primary work.

Some idioms such as “be well read” can falsely synonymize information with writing, so we use the term “content” to better describe the wider world of blogging, vlogging, curating and infographics — all powerful vehicles for information.

In fact, with the rise of smaller screens on tablets and mobile phones, we can expect the trend towards visual content to only increase. A content strategist might not need to be an expert at every format, but knowing the basics is a great way to stay on top of the field.

Following are some quality and affordable online learning experiences you’ll want to take advantage of:


Codecademy takes a fun approach to learning code that feels like a game, complete with badges for achievements. The startup garnered a lot of attention early this year with Code Year — a promotion that got much buzz on social media from people wanting to learn code, and earned over 100,000 new users in 48 hours (and 450,000 to date).

Not having a real project to work on can leave you bored, notes Leo Widrich, the (previously) non-technical startup founder of Buffer. Widrich’s incentives to learn code include getting in the habit of learning new things every day, and better understanding the people he works with.

He describes on his blog how he’s used Codecademy to build Quotespire. “The more I learn, the more fun it gets.”

Robert Hernandez, a USC journalism professor who is involved in too many journalism leadership roles to list, decided Codecademy was a perfect fit for his fascination with connecting a group through Google+ Hangouts.

His initial plan of recruiting nine people quickly turned into over 100 people in 12 separate groups that meet up on Hangouts at scheduled times throughout the week (many of whom work in the news industry and had struggled to learn code on their own).

Most participants have not met in real life but are comfortable asking questions and offering help when someone gets stuck. The peer pressure is what makes it work, Hernandez explains.

“Having that dedicated time slot with more than three people is the recipe for success,” Hernandez says. “You’ve got to have an ounce of guilt for not showing up.”

Codecademy offers lessons for Javascript (including jQuery), HTML and CSS, and is currently a free service.


Treehouse gets into more meaty programmming with responsive web design, Ruby basics (for a back end, or database code) and iOS development (X-code and Objective C).

The video tutorials are available for a membership of $25/mo., but Treehouse recognizes a learner’s need to work on real-life projects and built projects for users to tackle on their Gold membership, which is $49/mo.

New York Video School

New York Video School offers online courses as well as live lectures to people who either want to create compelling videos for their own website or sell their video-making skills to others — in fact, How To Start Your Own Production Company is the most popular course.

“The arrival of smart phones and iPads means that the world is now awash in screens … and those screens call for video,” says founder Michael Rosenblum, adding that he considers video to be the career choice for the next decade if not beyond (the title of his soon-to-be released book, iPhone Millionaire: How to Create and Sell Cutting Edge Video, suggests the same).

NYVS classes include storytelling, video shooting and editing, and unlimited access to courses is $9.95/mo.


Any designer will be the first to say that great design comes from lots of hands-on experience. But, experience must start with learning the basic tool, Photoshop, and Lynda is the authority on self-education, with an extensive library of video lessons for a low monthly fee ($25).

For a total newbie, it’s best to start with photo editing and infographics, and eventually work up the more complex, such as illustrations. Lynda also offers web design, developer and video courses.

The downside to learning a new skill online is the lack of follow-up. While incentives such as Codecademy’s badges can help, there’s nothing like putting together a group to learn together and keep each other accountable. As Widrich mentioned, putting what you’ve learned on display on a blog or somewhere else online can bring the encouragement that will help you keep going.

In addition to getting feedback, Rosenblum also recommends that learners just keep producing.

He says of NYVS, “As long as you keep making [videos] and uploading them, we’ll be happy to keep critiquing. The best way for someone learning online to get good is to keep making videos.”

Tree image courtesy of Lightspring/shutterstock

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