Online College for Learning, Fun (and maybe Credit)

Category: Education

Learning is a life-long process. As an adult, going back to college used to be a daunting prospect. But today it’s easy, often 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. 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. Some do offer course certificates to share with your professional network and potential employers. At least one offers a path to accredited online master’s degrees. 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.

MOOCs - free college classes online

Live streaming video sessions closely approximate the traditional classroom environment, allowing all students to see and hear a lecturer and submit 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. Technologies such as Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet are now familiar to most people, having gained popularity in the wake of the pandemic.

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 also common. Microsoft Teams and Slack are friendly collaboration platforms allowing groups of users to communicate and collaborate. They offer direct messaging, file sharing, and integration with tools like Google Drive Microsoft OneDrive. If you've ever been a participant in a Facebook group, you'll find this similar. 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 over 3000 courses from 300+ partner schools. Over 35 million people have used Coursera to learn new skills. In general, it’s easier to learn a course’s content when you’re not busy learning a new platform.

What Khan You Learn?

Coursera and Khan Academy are just the tip of the iceberg in online learning. See my three part series: Free Online College Courses, Free Online College Courses: Part Deux, and Free Online College Courses: Part Three

Coursera says all their courses are taught by top instructors from the world’s best universities and educational institutions. Among Coursera’s partner schools are names like Carnegie Mellon, Duke University, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. Courses include recorded video lectures, auto-graded and peer-reviewed assignments, and community discussion forums.

Some of the most popular Coursera MOOCs are Programming for Everybody, Data Science, Chinese for Beginners, Introduction to Public Speaking, and How to Understand Arguments. (Is anyone else recalling a Monty Python sketch after seeing that last item?) Coursera offers Courses, which will help you learn a new skill in 4-6 weeks. Most are priced at $29-$99. Also available are more in-depth 4-6 month Specializations to help you master a specific career skill. These are priced at $39-$79 per month. Accredited online degree programs in business, computer science, and data science are offered via Coursera's university partners, and require 1-3 years of study.

And there are a bunch of free Coursera classes too! Topics include Machine Learning, Photography, Successful Negotiation Strategies, Financial Markets, Philosophy, and Cryptography.

Platforms, Styles and Results

Udemy offers over 100,000 online courses taught by experts. You can learn computer programming, web design, photography, business skills, music and many other topics. If you have expertise in a certain field, you can even create your own online course at Udemy.

Khan Academy is another platform for MOOCs, which I reviewed in my 2011 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 appreciate its cogency. Millions of people have taken free 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 are looking to earn transferable degree credits, perhaps not; very few schools accept MOOC coursework for credit. But if you want to learn (to gain new skills 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...

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Most recent comments on "Online College for Learning, Fun (and maybe Credit)"

Posted by:

13 Nov 2023

"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."

Despite the DOE study, most traditional schools found during the recent pandemic that online instruction produced very poor result with students typically ranking from no progress to actually moving backward. Check the kids comparative scores and you'll see what I mean.

Posted by:

Mike Blangy
13 Nov 2023

Check out Nick Zentner, a Central Washington State University professor.
He started his Utube classes in 2020 when COVID hit. His college courses are on Utube and they cover Washington.
My favorites are on Volcanos and Dry Falls, the falls where HUGE and were made during the decline of the ice age. His videos come out constantly. His latest is on the Ice Age Floods just yesterday Sunday November 12 2023. People from around the world watch.
He has an addictive format for his classes and his short videos. Check them out!

Posted by:

14 Nov 2023

Teaching during a pandemic: do university teachers prefer online teaching?

Universities worldwide have been conducting e-learning during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue education irrespective of faculties are familiar with e-education or not. This study assessed perception and preference for e-teaching amongst 438 faculty members. Results revealed that around half of teachers were conducting e-classes without any training, and they also had conducted examinations using online platforms. Teachers perceived e-teaching as effective during the pandemic, time-efficient, easy to share materials, unsuitable for monitoring or conducting practical classes and less effective for evaluation. More than three-fourths of the teachers preferred online teaching during the pandemic, and most preferred both physical and mixed teaching in the post-pandemic era. Their preferences were influenced by their age, teaching experience, academic discipline, current residency, training on online teaching, hours of online classes taught per week, internet connection used, types of classes and whether they had given online examinations. The major challenges in online teaching during COVID-19 were difficulty in practical work, difficulty in monitoring students and insufficient feedback. This study suggests online teaching during the pandemic and mixed teaching after the pandemic. Training faculty members on online teaching, designing e-platforms suitable for examinations and ensuring stable internet connections are also recommended for effective and smooth e-education.

Posted by:

05 Dec 2023

Bob, thank you for this informative article. A similar article for those of us interested in learning trade skills for DIY projects (e.g., electrical, plumbing, carpentry) would be very valuable. There is a lot of YouTube content out there; a curated list and descriptions similar to this article would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for all you do.

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