The 7 most important sources for online education (MOOCs)
I’m always sorting through my spam emails and deleting hundreds of “Online diploma/degree for free” type of spam as I’m sure many others are doing. But spam exists because there is demand, there are lots of people out there that want to learn and keep learning, but cannot afford or don’t have the time to take a physical class. That’s why they’re searching for online education sources, for classes that can be followed without having to leave your house. I’m one of those people, when I come home from work and have some spare time, I like to spend it learning something new. That’s why I went ahead and did my research, looked through a lot of the online courses offerings that are out there to select 7 of what I consider to be the best sources for online education.
Most of the top universities offer free online courses directly or through partners, so you can indeed follow an online course from Harvard, MIT, Stanford and dozens others, even receiving a diploma if you manage to complete a course. Some of the courses have enrollment dates, others are entirely open throughout the year and have no deadlines, it all depends on the time you have and are designed in such a manner to let you choose the pace of learning.
The type of these online classes is that where a Syllabus is posted and divided into different topics or weeks, and each has materials from where you can learn, videos that present the topic discussed and of course exercises. The array of topics to learn from is very varied and I believe there are over 350 open online college-level courses (also known as MOOCs) in categories such as: Business, Computer Science, Engineering, Humanities, Mathematics, Science
It’s only a matter of you having the time to study, it’s not a matter of running out of courses to follow. As time is sensitive, if you know exactly what topic you want to master just see what classes are available and decide which one suits you best, maybe watch some of the videos to see if you like the way it’s being taught.
Anyway, here’s the list with details on each.
1. Coursera. This is the largest provider of free online courses from popular universities around the world. They currently have 221 courses from 33 top universities. Some of the biggest names they offer classes from are: Berklee, California Institute of Technology, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Rice, Stanford, British Columbia, University of Washington.
Given that each of the courses is usually 4 to 12 weeks long and assuming that you are employed somewhere else you’d probably only have time for 2 of these courses in the same time. This means it would take you 884 weeks to finish all of the courses or about 18.4 years :). But they keep adding more courses so the best thing to do is just focus on the topic you want to master, pick some courses and follow them.
2. Khan Academy. They have the largest database of courses, resources and exercises I’ve found so far. With over 3900 videos from all domains, they let you sign-up and keep track of what you’re learning. They also have engaging exercises, though it can be a bit difficult to filter through everything until you find what you’re interested in learning. They have a 11 minute video that shows an overview on how Khan Academy works and you can get an idea of how large they are:
Whereas Coursera is the largest provider of courses from universities, Khan Academy offers a more varied list of resource/courses and they’re not limited to those provided by universities. They have a badge system in place, meaning if you sign-up you get to earn badges based on your progress. A good thing for those that get more engaged as they are rewarded in a way or another.
3. EDX. Governed by MIT and Harvard, edX is a NFP organization and currently my choice for online learning. They’re building an open-source online learning platform and adding more universities along the road, right now you can enroll in classes from universities: MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, University of Texas System, Wellesley, Georgetown University (the latter 3 are not yet available but will be in autumn).
This is currently my choice because I found a course (CS50) taught by a professor (David J. Malan from Harvard) that really helps you understand what he’s teaching. If I had 2 professors like him in college, I would’ve been way more knowledgeable than I am now. Just look a bit at the following video (this is actually Week 0 of the CS50 course) and see if you like his way of teaching or not:
And imagine there are many more courses like this one. Even more, if you manage to complete a course in time and submit all your problem sets (which trust me are difficult) plus the final project, you get a diploma from Harvard (an online one but still, a diploma).
4. Class2Go (Stanford). Stanford classes are available through Coursera too, but some of the classes are only available through their own online open-source learning platform, Class2Go. Right now there are only 3 classes, but beautifully structured. They have other classes available on their Stanford Online portal, including some past courses.
5. Udacity. Since we’re talking about Stanford, Udacity is another online education initiative that started as a Stanford University project and grew up to a standalone platform with dozens of educators and engineers around the world. On the page of their board members, I see Laurene Jobs (Steve Jobs wife) listed too, though no details on what’s her involvement.
The courses are divided in to 3 categories, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced, which is one of their ideas that I like. This way if you decide to go learn more about a topic, you can begin with the lowest level for that topic and advance when you feel more confident.
6. Canvas Network. Another great open online education platform that offers several courses in association with professors from various universities or research labs. The courses offered seem to be more varied, as for instance you can enroll for a course on Marathon Training or one on Social Media.
I consider them being great for getting started on something, but the way they teach that is a bit annoying once you want to learn more. They too offer a badge system where you get one for everything that you do right, not the best way to learn in my opinion as you’re usually starting to learn for the purpose of knowing, not for that of getting a pretty colored image. But that’s me, there are lots of other people that feel encouraged by badges to advance furthermore in their learning.
There are other sources for getting free courses or online education resources, though those mentioned above cover pretty much most of the free online education universe. Here are some other resources that worth mentioning:
- OpenLearning, backed by an Australian University
- openHPI, now offering only 2 courses (one in German) and started by the co-founder of SAP
- University of Amsterdam free online courses
- Marginal Revolution University free courses
- CodeSchool. Lots of good courses for web development, unfortunately most of them are paid (monthly fee)
Last, but not least, I’ve found 2 aggregators of free online education resources at CourseTalk and Class Central. Both offer a growing list of external courses as well as ratings from other users (plus a possibility to sort those by popularity/date or other criteria).
Do you know of another source for free online education that I’ve missed or want to share your opinion on any of those mentioned above? Feel free to add a comment to share your opinion with us.