English, Ochiul magic, Prying eyes

No degree, but it’s free

Make a clever decision about your career and get more skills.

The number for free courses has never been larger. Online platforms have made their way into the fabric of education altering the old learning and teaching habits. It’s still unknown to many, but with a bit of research you can discover the new value of learning and make it part of your personal or professional life.

If you meet some basic technical requirements (Windows – Internet Explorer 7.0 or Firefox 3.5; Mac OSX – Safari 5.0 or Firefox 3.5, and a high-speed connection), here are some good places to get familiar with in case you want to either acquire new skills or simply discover things about a passion you have.

1. OpenCourseWare

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says 125 million people have already used online content via OpenCourseWare. OCW is a web-based library of college and university-level course content; it is open and available to anyone in the world.

Course offerings range from Writing to Architecture, from Comparative Media Studies to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, from Brain and Cognitive Sciences to Women’s and Gender Studies. These are not degree-granting or credit-bearing courses, but the audio and video content is attractive, the information is fresh and gives you the freedom to study through whenever you want at your own pace.

In order to encourage more students to access the platform, OCW has set up a consortium and is working on a rewarding formula. As students interact with each other and master the content, they gain SmartScore points. Once they reach a certain SmartScore for a course, they can print out a Certificate of Participation. Courses for this exercise are from TU Delft, The University of Notre Dame, The University of California, Irvine, and The Universidad Politécnica Madrid.

2. Coursera

Over 1.5 million students around the world are now enrolled on Coursera. They have free access to courses offered by 33 top Universities from Switzerland, Israel, United States, Hong Kong or UK. The major difference from OCW is that Coursera offers a certificate to those who successfully complete a class.

The platform is host to 204 courses that vary from Music, Film and Audio Engineering to Statistics, Data Analysis and Scientific Computing. If you are interested in starting your own business, for instance, but have little knowledge on the Foundations of Business Strategy or Microeconomics for Managers, sign up for six- or ten-week courses that are going to start in January 2013.

If you decide to start a class, prepare yourself for weekly assignments, computer grading and peer reviews. Students in poetry, for example, are asked to practice critical thinking and interpretive skills by answering essay-style questions. The same goes with a business plan – students evaluate each other’s work and provide feedback.

3. Udacity

Udacity is an online education company putting college level courses online for free. Their classes are exclusively computer-related. To the end of October 2012, more than 57,000 students have enrolled only in one course (CS 253) which took them from the basics of how the web works through everything they needed to know to build their own blog application and scale it to support large number of users.

Udacity courses have three levels of expertise: beginner, intermediate and advanced. All classes are followed by a final exam.

What makes Udacity different from OCW and Coursera is that it works with over 20 high tech companies in helping its students to find a job. Udacity also has recruiters who build job programs by introducing students to potential employers.

4. Canvas

This is a new platform and the first series of courses will begin on January 7, 2013.

The initial list includes a fifteen-week course in International Health Systems offered by the University of Florida; a eight-week course in Strategic Innovations and Ideas from the Colorado State University (it flies you through the innovation process from basic management practices to corporate governance and social responsibility); a 15-week course in Introduction to Openness in Education from the Lumen University; a four-week course in Digital Media One from the Peninsula College (it helps you in building up a website portfolio of digital media projects); and a fifteen-week course in Writing History from the same Peninsula College.

None of these courses comes with a final grade, but things might change in the future.

5. EdX

EdX is a learning platform developed by the Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and designed for interactive study via the web. But this is also a study lab of the two universities as they use EdX to research how students learn and how technology changes the learning process.

The number of available courses is very limited: only nine and all of them already started back in September or October. The major difference is that every student achieving a passing grade in a course can earn a certificate of mastery. This certificate indicates that the student successfully completed the course and is issued by EdX under the name of either Harvard, MIT or Berkeley.

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