10 great MOOCs for techies -- all free, starting soon!

Feeling like your IT, project management or leadership skills could use a boost? No need to enroll in a degree program or pay for certification -- take a Massive Online Open Course instead.

moocs for techies
Feed your head -- for free

Attention, technology pros: CIOs and hiring managers have weighed in on which IT skills are in highest demand right now. Is your resume up to snuff?

If not, consider enrolling in a Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs offer open access and unlimited participation via the Web to some of the most popular tech courses on the planet -- for free. While you may not emerge with a certificate or a degree, MOOCs can be a great -- and cheap -- way to boost your credentials.

Computerworld sifted through numerous sites and course descriptions to find 10 MOOCs that are likely to appeal to techies -- all starting soon. Click through to browse the list.

principals of project management
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Principles of Project Management

Starting date: Jan. 13, 2014

What it offers: This four-week course, led by Sue Dowson, eLearning advisor at Polytechnic West, is designed to teach you how to manage a project from start to finish, with a focus on project management standards and processes. It teaches key skills, such as how to manage stakeholders, how to plan work and how to execute projects.

Selling point: According to TEKsystems' 2014 Annual IT Forecast, project managers ranked No. 2 -- just behind programmers/developers -- on the list of critical positions cited by the nearly 900 U.S. and Canadian IT leaders surveyed for the study.

strategic management
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Strategic Management

Starting date: Jan. 13, 2014

What it offers: Today's tech managers are expected to be business partners, creating value and driving strategy. Led by Australian businessman and academic Mo Kader, this four-week course teaches would-be leaders how to focus on long-term strategy when managing projects and organizations, rather than reacting to day-to-day crises. It also tells you how to take a strategic position and how to recommend a strong business strategy.

Selling point: In its 2013 CIO Agenda report, research firm Gartner listed strategy, funding and skills as the "three interlocking issues" IT leaders must address now.

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Programming Mobile Applications for Android Handheld Systems

Starting date: Jan. 21, 2014

What it offers: Taught by University of Maryland computer science professor Adam Porter, this eight-week class covers fundamental programming principles, software architecture and user experience considerations that underlie handheld software applications and their development environments. It's free, but a paid version is available for those who want to earn a certificate. The course complements another profiled here: Pattern-Oriented Software Architectures for Concurrent and Networked Mobile Devices.

Selling point: As nearly all tech managers are already aware, Android is the fastest-growing major smartphone platform.

Introduction to Strategic Thinking
Introduction to Strategic Thinking

Starting date: Jan. 27, 2014

What it offers: This interdisciplinary course, taught by economist, strategist and Layered Thinker blogger Sandjar Kozubaev, goes beyond business strategy to encompass lessons and concepts from economics, game theory, scenario planning, behavioral sciences, futures studies, philosophy and linguistics. The goal over four weeks is to train students to look at problems in smarter, more creative ways.

Selling point: Future Work Skills 2020, a study sponsored by the University of Phoenix Research Institute and conducted by the nonprofit Institute for the Future, predicted that novel and adaptive thinking will be a key workforce skill.

Building Mobile Experiences
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Building Mobile Experiences

Starting date: Feb. 4, 2014

What it offers: This 12-week project-based course teaches you how to create a mobile app by walking you through all stages – from research and design to usability to implementation and field evaluation. Java experience (or Objective C for iOS users) and a smartphone are required. This class goes beyond writing code to emphasize the process of designing and evaluating a unique mobile experience.

Selling point: Taught by Frank Bentley of Yahoo Labs and Ed Barrett, a senior lecturer at MIT, this MITx course is based on a popular class taught by the pair at MIT since 2006, so you'll be learning with the best.

Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
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Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

Starting date: Feb. 17, 2014

What it offers: This four-week course, taught by Macquarie University lecturer Dr. Andrew Heys, starts with an introduction to negotiation and conflict resolution from both an academic and a practical perspective. You'll learn to think like a negotiator, to identify the five phases of negotiation and to develop a range of negotiation strategies. Plus, you'll get practical tips that you can put to work immediately and use as a foundation as you build additional skills.

Selling point: As Computerworld reported in Negotiation tips for IT pros, these skills are key in today's collaborative work environments, but IT folks aren't always able to pick them up in the course of their regular career trajectory.

Pattern-Oriented Software Architectures for Concurrent and Networked Mobile Devices and Clouds
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Pattern-Oriented Software Architectures for Concurrent and Networked Mobile Devices and Clouds

Starting date: April 2, 2014

What it offers: Once you've nailed Programming Mobile Applications for Android Handheld Systems, you're ready for this fourteen-week course, led by two professors from Vanderbilt University, which teaches you how to develop concurrent and networked software for Android devices that connect to cloud computing platforms – two of the biggest trends in IT today. You'll utilize object-oriented design techniques, Java programming language features, Android and Jetty middleware, Linux operating system mechanisms and cloud computing platforms.

Selling point: Nearly 27% of respondents to Computerworld's Forecast 2014 survey said they plan to hire for mobile applications and device management skills in the next 12 months.

Gamification Design
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Gamification Design

Starting date: March 17, 2014

What it offers: This seven-week course covers everything from the psychology of games to defining and creating gamified experiences. A team of four instructors -- game designers and professors -- will cover the ins and outs of designing gamified experiences, including storytelling, mechanics and aesthetics. Live hangouts and local meetups will help personalize student's experiences.

Selling point: The need for gamification expertise is real: A recent report from Gartner predicted that 80% of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives because companies have not invested in skilled game designers.

Technology and the Future: Managing Change and Innovation
Technology and the Future: Managing Change and Innovation

Starting date: April 7, 2014

What it offers: What impact does today's hyper rate of change have on you and your organization? This 9-week course, led by Peter von Stackelberg, a professor at the School of Architecture, Management & Engineering Technology at Alfred State College, will address the importance of technological innovation; the dynamics of technological change; factors affecting technological innovation and adoption; and organizational strategy and strategic management. At the end of the class, students should be able to develop and implement organizational strategies for technological innovation within their organizations.

Selling point: According to Prosci, a change-management research firm, effective management practices increase the success rate of organizational changes by as much as 96%.

Big Data Applications and Analytics
Big Data Applications and Analytics

Starting date: Ongoing

What it offers: This self-paced course looks at the use of clouds running data analytics collaboratively for processing big data, with a focus on case studies. The course, created by Geoffrey Fox, Associate Dean for Research at the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing, moves from an overview of big data to specific technologies such as Python and PlotViz. Course contents are divided into 12 sections, with supporting material available to download. A Google Plus community provides interactive support.

Selling point: IT leaders responding to the Society of Information Management's 2013 IT Trends Study (pdf) said analytics/business intelligence was their No. 1 IT investment, with big data at No. 4.

MOOCs for techies
A MOOC backlash?

For all their appeal, MOOCs aren't without their flaws, and a backlash of sorts has emerged, with skeptics questioning everything from compensation for professors to the degree of student engagement. And data showing very low course completion rates only exacerbates the debate.

Have you taken a MOOC? If so, use the comments button to share your experiences, pro and con.

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. You can contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.