There are some really good resources available for free online education and I have been using Coursera for a couple of years now. Also referred to as massively (or massive) open online courses or MOOCs. There are lots of different courses to choose from: Arts and Humanities, Business, Computer Science, Data Science, Life Sciences, Math and Logic, Personal Development, Physical and Science and Engineering, Social Sciences and Language Learning.
There are some courses that you can do at your own pace or they are self-paced so you can complete them in your own time. You can also take specialization courses for which you pay for and they involve a Capstone Project designed to apply the skills that you’ve learned and you earn a Certificate. There is also Financial Aid available if you can’t afford a course.
The majority of the courses are like an interactive textbook, and feature prerecorded videos, online quizzes that are usually multiple-choice (some of which you are able to do at your leisure), essays and/or projects. The quizzes I took were actually graded instantly by a clever computer and some assignments were judged and graded by fellow students. You can connect with other people or learners through forums to talk about course material and get help. There were pass rates for the course that you had to attain in order to receive a Certificate on completion of the course.
I think MOOCs are a good and effective way to learn some more and without needing a prior certificate or any associated certificate pressures. Some of the institutions that offer courses include: Standford, Duke, Johns Hopkins University, Penn State. However, there are many other institutions from other parts of the world to choose from. In the courses that I completed, there were between 1 and 3 instructors and I found all of them to be good and some with interesting personalities but that just added a layer of fun to the course. Some instructors arrange meet ups for learners presently taking a course, so you can get to meet your instructor and other learners. However, one instructor informed us that he would be in a particular location and he could be identified by a particular red baseball cap with the institutions logo on it. He also included a previous photo of him wearing said hat standing on a street somewhere just to clear up any possible identification issues. But overall I can’t say anything bad about any of the instructors delivering the courses that I took – some were even charming and quirky. Talking of learners or students, there can be thousands of them taking the course or that are in your MOOC classroom, and from all corners of the world.
There are some downsides such as little or lack of contact with the instructors or professors, but then again you could be talking about one or two professors and thousands of students. Some have Google hangouts but the odds of actually of getting a response from a professor feels like something akin to the odds of winning the lottery. Sometimes the professors will respond via discussion boards or you can get responses from teaching assistants.
There’s lots more I could say about my online learning experience but it’s a way of learning something new, or refreshing something that you learned awhile ago, and it’s a relatively painless source of self improvement. I am not sure if I would call my experience life-changing but I do think there is that potential.
Coursera is not the only website offering online courses, there are lots of others too. Some are:
The above is just a partial list.
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