Business English in Pajamas: Free Online Business Courses from Princeton, Harvard and More
These days on the internet, you can read e-books, graphic novels, blogs or the news. You can listen to podcasts and watch YouTube, tutor a stranger across the world and even learn languages.
And you can do all this without leaving your smartphone or computer.
Now, you can even get your business English education online for free.
In this post, I’ll cover 7 of the best websites for learning business English, all from the comfort of your own home.
- The 7 Best Websites for Business English Courses
- MBA Core Classes
- Special Topics Related to Business English
- Learn Your Lesson
Native English speakers are learning business vocabulary and skills in MOOCs (massive online open courses) offered by the top schools in the world. These courses cover undergraduate, graduate and executive courses across every industry. Although you cannot use these courses to get a formal degree, you can include these on your resume.
Here are some of the best sites to get a free business English education. They are known for their advanced technology, including videos, subtitles, transcripts and graphics. This makes them suitable for many different learning styles. Many of these sites are recognized internationally and they all let you take free courses.
The 7 Best Websites for Business English Courses
Edx is a leading online course provider, hosting university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines (e.g. science, business, psychology, philosophy). The site is associated with revered institutions like Harvard, MIT and Berkeley, and it has self-paced courses for English and business topics in general.
For a relatively small fee, you’ll receive a verified, instructor-signed certificate as proof of the work you’ve done. It’s a great boost for your LinkedIn or resume to have proof of your supplemental education. Click here to check out what's currently available on EdX!
Coursera is another MOOC that lets you learn at your own pace (as fast or slow as you want). You can complete courses as they take place, or just look over the material when they’re over.
Each course has instructional videos, followed by quizzes and exercises you can take to make sure you understood the materials. There are a few peer-rated (graded by your fellow students) assignments, so it’s a good place to exchange information with other students who are learning just like you.
Coursera has a huge number of partners, institutions and universities offering courses. More are constantly being added, so it’s worth checking back regularly to see if anything interesting has popped up.
This one partners with schools all over the world and offers subtitles in 28 languages, from Japanese to Arabic and Uzbek. They focus on peer interaction, with requirements to post on community forums, grade peer assessments, etc. Click here to see the many business and language courses available right now—covering everything English grammar to delivering incredible presentations!
This program was founded by Stanford and now hosts other elite universities, including Princeton. NovoEd offers real-world course projects to give you usable business skills and boost your resume.
Want to focus on your “employability” or basic education and workplace skills? This is the place to start from the beginning and learn the basics. The basics are necessary to survive in business. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Key to a Good Paying Job is…Microsoft Excel?” confirms that up to 78% of job openings require basic skills such as the ability to use Excel and Word. While the other sites mostly offer traditional semester-long courses, Alison’s are typically much shorter. Some can be done in less than an hour!
5. Academic Earth
This program works with Yale and Carnegie Mellon, among others. In addition to free courses, they post original videos and encourage discussion. Practice your business English here with some of the largest online communities.
A familiar name which hosts courses from University of Oxford, MIT, Harvard, Stanford and more. Stay organized with these on-the-go classes using your iPad “bookshelf” or iPhone app. This is very useful for learning on long commutes or while waiting for meetings to begin.
7. Open Culture
Here you will find lists of courses from many of the other sites listed here (and some that are not listed). It’s very useful and also has basic courses such “English as a Second Language,” “Grammar Girl” and “Business English.”
Now that you know where to access the classes, I am going to introduce you to the most useful business courses that you can take. These will improve your business English and your overall business skills.
First, we’ll cover what we learned in my masters of business administration (MBA) education. After graduation I worked in multiple countries and stayed on top of industry trends leading to the second part of the post – what we didn’t cover but should have.
MBA Core Classes
Learn about how businesses use statistics, specifically through quantitative and qualitative data.
Quantitative data can be measured with numbers and figures such as weight, height, price, etc. Just remember that quantitative = quantity. Qualitative data cannot be measured in numbers. This kind of data often uses descriptions such as beauty, taste, feeling, etc. Quantitative and qualitative data are only the basics of the new vocabulary you will learn in this class.
Use introductory classes such as “Introduction to Financial and Managerial Accounting” or “Introduction to Balance Sheets” to learn new vocabulary related to accounting and managing money. If you’re already comfortable with the basics, participate in some advanced classes such as “Business Analysis Using Financial Statements.”
You can do the same with finance (and all other classes). Use an introductory class such as “Introduction to Corporate Finance” (or watch “The Wolf of Wall Street”) for basic vocabulary. Then you can continue to “Financial Analysis and Decision Making” to learn how this vocabulary is really used in a business environment. For personal use, try out the course called “Stocks and Bonds: Risks and Returns.” This one will help you invest your own portfolio (your collection of investments, such as stocks and bonds). The skills and vocabulary you learn here will all be related to business, so it will help improve your business English as well.
“The Power of Microeconomics and Macroeconomics: Economics Principles in the Real World” is a great (and short) introduction to economics and how it affects business.
What is a monopoly? Not just a board game! In terms of economics, a monopoly is when one company owns all (or almost all) of the market for a product or service. Further, an oligopoly is when only a few companies own all of the market. An example of an oligopoly is the smartphone market. Apple, Samsung, Nokia, HTC and a few other companies own the smartphone market. Learning about monopolies will also teach you how incentive is related to competition.
Another key element of economics is monetary policy, or how the central bank influences the size and growth of money supply. However, instead of simply learning the definition of this term, you will also learn you how the central government works with the central banking system to create job growth and stimulate the economy.
Of course, economics will also teach you about supply and demand. Take your new supply knowledge a step further with “Supply Chain Management: A Learning Perspective.”
Economics will teach you what supply quantity to target, but supply chain management will teach you how to control the distribution channel (the chain of businesses that is used to get your product to the people who are buying it).
Leadership/ Organizational Behavior
Business school taught us how to be leaders. It taught us how people act in an organizational setting, where they are all working together in teams. If you want to work in business, you should learn about “Building and Leading Effective Teams.” No matter what position, department or industry you work in, you will likely be working with others. Knowing how to read (learn about, understand) other people will help you motivate and inspire them.
A great follow-up course would be learning how to manage project risks and changes. Every project (and team) deals with challenges and changes. Being able to adapt and lead your team through these will boost your chances for success. You will also want to learn how to be a leader in international business.
Don’t confuse Human Resources with Leadership. Leadership (and team development) is good for anyone to learn. This will help you move up and get better jobs where you have to manage and lead people. Human Resources (HR), which is introduced in this fundamentals class, is only really necessary for those working specifically in Human Resources. These classes focus more on the how to hire, reward, discipline and fire people.
The first step to marketing is understanding your target market and overall industry. Use this course, “Discovering and Meeting Market Needs,” to study terms related to market research and client acquisition (getting or obtaining new clients). Follow up with “Marketing for Non-Marketers” to learn marketing tools such as how to segment your market or how to develop pricing strategies based on the psychology of consumers.
Of course, one of the best places to market today is online. Fortunately, there are many courses teaching you specifically how to use the internet and social media to reach customers. For instance, what’s the difference with paying for Google ads versus Facebook ads? How can you best use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or any social network to increase sales or expand your small business?
Combine marketing and information technology (IT) with this e-commerce course, “Introduction to Internet Marketing Strategies for Business.”
Special Topics Related to Business English
Here are some of the topics that we did not cover during my years of business education. These topics are very useful for anyone who wants to learn more about business and its different elements. Based on your interests and goals, some of these topics will be very important for you to learn.
They are all great topics to explore if you want to learn more specific business English.
Sure, we covered “Foundations of Business Strategy” but you can develop your business strategy better by learning about “Asset Pricing” or “Competitive Strategy.”
For example, understand how your competitors make decisions by recognizing the prisoner’s dilemma. This dilemma explains that competitors’ choices depend critically on the choices made by other related businesses. Competing businesses will all react to each other’s actions. Watch here for a video explaining this idea. This knowledge will help you learn why firms (competitors) work together.
Familiarize yourself with project management with “Introduction to Project Management Principles and Practices” or “Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management.” You will learn what traits you need to be a project manager and a team leader.
Important elements of project management include budgeting and scheduling projects, identifying project risk events, the difference between accountability and responsibility, etc.
Since you are learning business English, you are likely working with a foreign company. “Challenges in Global Affairs” will introduce you to international relations (communication and policies between nations), fragmentation (the process or state of being broken up into sections or parts) and social change (cultural changes), etc.
One of the fastest growing social concerns is related to the environment. In fact, the local government will likely affect your business with certain requirements and policies regarding the planet. Classes such as “Environmental Risk and Resilience,” “An Introduction to Life Cycle Environmental Assessment” and “Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Change Conversations” will introduce you to current hot topics (popular topics) related to the environment.
Regardless of your personal views on this, customers are increasingly demanding companies consider the environment in their business strategy. Now, when customers ask you about your product life cycle, you will understand they are asking about how many resources went into making, packaging, transporting and disposing of the product.
This section needs no introduction. If you are an entry-level worker, a small business owner or the CEO of a major corporation, you will always want to protect yourself legally. The sites listed above offer legal courses such as “International Taxation,” “Introduction to European Business Law” or “Employee-Employer Law” (US). For designers and engineers, protect your work from theft (especially in the age of the internet) with “Copyright Basics: How to Protect Your Work From Piracy.”
For instance, what’s the difference between contractual, quasi-contractual and non-contractual relationships? What is a copyright? What can be copy written?
In addition to legal protection, you can protect yourself in other ways with the following courses. “Cybersecurity and Its Ten Domains” will inform you of confidentiality, encryption and compliance. After embarrassing, high-profile hacks (unauthorized access) at Sony, you can see why some of the highest paying jobs are currently for cybersecurity technicians, with a junior level employee with less than one year of experience earning an average of $91,124.
“Crisis Management: Proseminar in Public Relations” is a necessary course and also great for business English learners. This will teach you how to use language to solve problems and communicate with the public about problems in business. You will learn how to deflect (avoid) questions and direct conversations, while making your business look good. This is very similar to tactics taught in this negotiations course. Every company uses crisis management, particularly after they are caught in a scandal (public disgrace).
Every business education in the US mandates that you take an ethics course. The course “Unethical Decision Making in Organizations” will give you a realistic look at organizations and how to handle unethical bosses and colleagues. This will teach you how routines and organizational environments affect ethical blindness.
Entrepreneurs, get ready to be happy. You get your own section because all of these MOOC sites want to help you succeed. Entrepreneurs, independent businesspeople starting or changing businesses and trends, deal with a lot of personal risk and a lot of reward.
Get inspiration in starting your business. Set it up for success. Try taking “Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship,” “Scaling Smart: Developing Repeatable Models to Grow Your Impact” and “21 Days to Building a Web Business.”
Once you have everything set up, “How to Get Angel Investors” and “New Venture Finance: Startup Funding for Entrepreneurs” will teach you how to fund your new enterprise. Angel investors provide financial help for startups (new, young businesses), at a large risk to themselves, usually in exchange for equity (shares in the company).
Now that you have your funding, learn how to market your new business with “Strategic Design: The Art and Science of Branding,” “Entrepreneurship 101: Who is Your Customer?” and “Pitching Your Business and Yourself.”
Last, always protect yourself legally. “Law and the Entrepreneur” and “Copyright Law for Entrepreneurs” are two courses regarding US law, specifically for entrepreneurs. There are legal courses for other English-speaking countries, as well.
Learn Your Lesson
Don’t forget, you can search for industry-specific courses as well. For instance, “Introduction to the Music Business” for music creators or “Fundamentals of the Global Energy Business” for those working in energy production or interested in energy sustainability.
Also, have fun! Learn chemistry through cooking with this Harvard course. Even if you are not planning on becoming a sommelier (wine professional) anytime soon, sign up for this wine course so that you can impress clients by ordering them the finest wines paired with their favorite dishes.
Overall, learning where native speakers learn is a great way to study business English. In this case, through free online courses, taking business courses is the easiest and most useful way to learn business English.
After all, what’s good about a list of vocabulary words unless you know which situations to use them in?
Joyce Fang grew up all over the United States and currently lives in Yokohama, Japan working as a freelance business plan writer and graphic designer. She has earned a Japan-focused MBA and has worked across almost every industry including finance, hospitality, retail and event management. She loves traveling, food, rugby, hot yoga and her dog, Gator.