MOOCs: Free College Classes for Fun and Profit
Going back to college used to be a daunting ambition for working adults, but today it’s as easy, free, and just a few clicks away. So-called “Massively Open Online Classes” (MOOCs) presented by top universities provide opportunities to learn at your own pace, in your style, from wherever you happen to be, free of cost. Read on to learn what you can learn!
What is a MOOC?
In most cases, you won’t get academic credits for MOOCs, much less a Harvard MBA degree. But if you’re looking for tools to use in your job, or skills to help you find a new job, then MOOCs make perfect sense. Many people are just looking to learn for the pleasure of learning, and MOOCs are ideal for them, too.
Various styles of MOOCs have evolved to suit the learning modes and preferences of different students. Yes, some MOOCs are dry, sparse things consisting only of reading texts and taking quizzes. But others include interactive communication with an instructor and even fellow students.
Video chat sessions closely approximate the traditional classroom environment, allowing all students to see and hear a lecturer and submit written questions that are answered at the appropriate moments in a lecture. Usually, you don’t even have to take notes; the video and chat sessions are preserved for students’ later review.
Class discussions are just another application of videoconferencing technology as applied in MOOCs. Online forums where students and faculty can communicate publicly but asynchronously are just like any other Yahoo! Group or Google Hangout. You may find that what you seek was discussed a year ago by another group of classmates, or you may post a question and get fresh answers in nearly real time.
The software platform on which a MOOC is presented has a big impact on the student’s experience. One of the most widely used MOOC platforms is Coursera which currently hosts 868 courses from 115 schools. In general, it’s easier to learn a course’s content when you’re not busy learning a new platform.
What Can You Learn?
Among Coursera’s partner schools are names like Duke University, Wesleyan University, U of Maryland, Yale, the Wharton School of Business, and the University of Michigan. Some of the most popular Coursera MOOCs are Social Psychology, Programming Mobile Apps for Android Handheld Systems, Introduction to Financial Accounting, Introduction to Public Speaking, and How to Reason & Argue. (Is anyone else recalling a Monty Python sketch after seeing that last item?)
Right now, there are only five Coursera classes that can be taken to (possibly) earn college credits, and they're working on expanding that list. Coursera has a Signature Track program, which costs $30 - $90 per course, and includes a proctored online Credit Exam. But just as when attempting to transfer credits from classes taken at one college to another, there is no guarantee. Credits for the Coursera offerings shown below are granted at the discretion of the institution.
- Pre-Calculus from the University of California, Irvine
- Introduction to Genetics and Evolution from Duke University
- Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach from Duke University
- Calculus: Single Variable from the University of Pennsylvania
- Algebra from the University of California, Irvine
Platforms, Styles and Results
Khan Academy is another platform for MOOCs, which I reviewed in my article How to Learn Almost Anything For Free. Its style is the short, 15-30 minute video presentation that pares a subject down to its essence. Some academics fault Khan for its brevity, but many busy working students appreciated its cogency. Almost 20 million people have taken Khan Academy classes since it started in 2009.
Are online classes as effective as in-person on campus learning? Of course, that depends on the student. A 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that "classes with online learning (whether taught completely online or blended) on average produce stronger student learning outcomes than do classes with solely face-to-face instruction."
Is a MOOC right for you? If you looking to earn transferable degree credits, probably not; very few schools accept MOOC coursework for credit. But if you want to learn (to gain new skils or just for fun) without taking out a second mortgage or losing sleep, then a MOOC is something to consider.
Have you ever taken an online course? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 7 Nov 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- MOOCs: Free College Classes for Fun and Profit (Posted: 7 Nov 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved