Thousands of free online classes are at the fingertips of Spokane County residents, but many don’t know it.
Both the Spokane County Library District and the Spokane Public Library offer a full slate of classes on a variety of topics through Lynda.com, Gale Courses and the Microsoft Imagine Academy. All that’s required to sign up is a library card number from either library system.
People can learn anything from finance to accounting to personal development to graphic design. There are also classes on foreign languages and parenting. “There are just dozens and dozens of classes,” said Spokane County Library District library services manager Stacey Goddard.
The classes are available online, so there’s no need to actually go into a library branch. “You don’t have to be online at a specific time,” she said.
Mark Pond, business research librarian for Spokane Public Libraries, said the Lynda.com classes are geared toward the creative community. He estimates there are up to 6,000 classes and there are 162 classes just for Adobe Illustrator.
“There’s just amazing depth,” he said.
Each type of online class is slightly different. The Lynda.com classes are a series of short instructional videos and transcripts are available for those that want them, Goddard said. “It’s broken into bite-sized pieces,” she said.
The Gale Courses are instructor-led and are usually six weeks long, with two lessons available each week. Students have access to discussion forums and communicate with the instructor via email. Students who pass a test at the end receive a certificate of completion.
The Microsoft classes are taught by experts and library staff is available to proctor exams needed to receive a Microsoft Office specialist certification.
The classes aren’t just for people interested in checking out something new. Pond said he began promoting the online classes to local businesses a few years ago after talking to one business that planned to spend money on Excel classes for its staff. Those classes are available for free through the library.
“They were just paying out the nose for it,” Pond said. “That was my first ‘Aha’ moment.”
In the past three months, 453 users signed up for Lynda.com classes and 111 completed their class. Pond said people who want to learn something specific will just access the part of the class they need and not complete the whole thing.
The local medical community also uses the service heavily for continuing education requirements, Pond said.
“These are college level classes that are available for free,” he said.
It’s no accident that the Spokane County Library District and the Spokane Public Library offer the same online classes. An effort was made to make sure that Spokane County residents would have access to the same services whether they lived in the city of Spokane or Spokane County, Pond said.
While there isn’t a charge to enroll in classes, in a sense they have already been paid for, Goddard said.
“It’s been paid for by their tax dollars,” she said. “They might as well come in and avail themselves of these services.”