Do you like learning new things and expanding your knowledge?

It is often said that one of the most basic characteristics of us humans is our constant thirst to expand our knowledge and understanding of both ourselves and the world around us.

The most common path people take in order to achieve that  is going to University. This is also done in order to gain a profession which many people consider as the safest path to an ongoing career and regular income.

We won’t get into the argument on whether or not a university degree guarantees a lifelong career and a regular source of income but one thing is for sure: education has always been an expensive commodity to acquire which meant that, for many years, getting an education in an area that is of interest to you, was restricted only for those who had the big dough to pay for it or were willing and able to get into a large debt in order to get education now and pay for it later.

Well, like in many other areas of our life, the Internet has turned access to education on its head. Free or cheap education is now available for all.

Initially, the  internet allowed easy and free access to knowledge through sites like Wikipedia. This was a huge leap forward and has revolutionised the way we research and obtain factual information.

In recent years however, a new trend emerged.

This new trend allows anyone in the world with internet access to take structured courses on any topic that is of interest to them for either completely free or for a fraction of the cost of a university degree. These courses are delivered in real-time or on demand with students having access to high calibre instructors (often world leading experts in their field) as well as other students who are taking the course.

The course content itself is often equivalent to what is taught in its ‘offline’ version in a university lecture theatre.

Welcome to the brave new world of MOOC – Massive Open Online Course.

MOOC courses fall into two distinct categories: scheduled and on-demand.

Scheduled MOOC courses are very similar to standard university courses in the sense that they start and finish at set times and follow a set schedule. The lectures themselves are all pre-recorded but are not all released at the beginning of the course. Instead, the lectures are released according to the course schedule and students need to follow the course schedule with regards to watching the lectures, working on exercises and assignments and discussing the topics taught that week on the course’s online forums where they can also get access to the course’s instructor and their teaching assistants as well as other students taking the course. Students who fulfill all the course requirements on time can get a certificate of completion at the end.

On-demand MOOC are pre-recorded courses that can be taken at any time. Some of those offer direct interaction with the instructor at regular intervals through a forum mechanism or virtual ‘office hours’.

The biggest MOOC platforms operating today:

Scheduled MOOC

  • edX – The first MOOC platform. Originally created by Harvard University as a platform to deliver their courses to the world for free. Many other very prestigious institutions like MIT and Berkeley have joined since. All courses are 100% free.
  • Coursera – The biggest MOOC platform for scheduled courses. They offer more than 2000 courses from over 100 education providers from around the world, most of whom are accredited (and quite prestigious!) universities. All courses are free but there is also an option to do a complete degree remotely and gain an official and formal certificate of completion from the university which provides this course. This is equivalent (in most cases) to actually taking the course on campus with the university directly.
  • Open2Study – a MOOC platform provided by Open Universities Australia. Offers a more limited selection of courses which are also of shorter duration (4-6 weeks for each course). Most of the education providers are Australian. All courses are 100% free.

On-demand MOOC

  • Udacity – offers on-demand courses on almost any topic you can think of. The courses are delivered by private instructors with demonstrated industry experience as well as university lecturers. Most courses give free access to the course material (the written material and course slides) but in order to get access to the interactive experience of viewing the lectures and interacting with the instructors, you will need to pay a monthly fee which varies by course.
  • Udemy –  very similar to Udacity but with two small differences:
    1. Anyone can offer a course on the platform provided they meet the requirements set by Udemy.
    2. The platform offers both free and paid courses. For the paid courses you pay a once-off fee for lifetime access to the course material (not a monthly fee like with Udacity).

So there you have it.

Now everyone can get quality education without having to mortgage their house, get into debt or sell a kidney.

Welcome to the brave new world of MOOC. Happy learning!

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