Free Online Courses

I decided to take a free online course what is commonly referred to as a MOOC (“massive open online courses”). The online course I am taking does not necessarily fit with my career; nevertheless, it sharpens some of my transferable skills such as computational thinking and problem solving and covers an interesting subject. Overall, my experience has been positive; though it does take some familiarity getting used to the process.  I am used to taking notes and raising my hand when I have a question, both of these habits help me reinforce what I am learning.  And I guess there is no kissing up by sitting in the first row.

The interface for learning is adequate, in fact, I think in many ways it is better than sitting in a classroom. The screen layout is comprised of: a top navigation menu that takes you through video and assignments for a particular class, a video that plays the professor’s movements and dialogue and there is a bar where you can read the script, there are links to the textbook, a navigation bar with each of the classes, homework and assignments.

There are clear advantages in taking one of these MOOC online courses:

  • Flexibility to take classes on your own schedule. The one I took gives you flexibility within a week; there are deadlines for homework and assignments.
  • Use an effective learning interface. Answering problems while you take a class is an excellent way to reinforce the learning of concepts in the lecture. Rewinding the video or reading the script to catch something your missed is handy.
  • Professors hail from the top universities (UC Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, etc.), so they deliver an engaging lecture.
  • It is free and there are few prerequisites. I was provided a free textbook with my course; however, some courses require you to buy the textbook.
  • Upon completion of the course you receive a badge. This is a way to validate your expertise of skill learned in a course. There are a few that will offer you college credit.
  • Gives you the opportunity to explore a subject or discipline you might be interested in. I thought about taking a class in developing graphical interfaces because it is something I would like to learn.

I think the biggest advantage in taking one of these online courses is it gives you the opportunity to tune-up your transferable skills, which are becoming an increasingly important part of your skill set. There is little difference in what you learn from one of these online courses compared to their traditional classroom counterpart at a local college; in fact, considering you are taking a course from one of the top universities in the world, you will get a better lecture. Obviously, there is much more hands-on learning by taking a traditional course; professors are more likely to build some repertoire with their students over a semester. Online courses do have forums, which open up some communication channels between professors and their students.

I suggest during the planning stage of a skills based approach that you consider taking MOOC courses to learn your transferable skills.  You will not receive college credits at this stage; however, you will get a certificate acknowledging that you have passed the course – something you can post on your professional website. Considering there is no difference in what is being taught and requirements to pass the course, the providers of these MOOC courses will probably be forced to give actual credits in the future.

The cost of education has risen sharply, so it makes sense to efficiently plan your courses – every course should address learning a skill in your skill set, whether it is a technical or soft skill. Learning many of the basic courses such as introductory calculus or writing is essentially a commodity, so why not take a MOOC course with a world-renown professor from a top university – for free. In a Wall Street Journal article, Kevin Carey (director of policy at the New America Foundation) makes the following assertion: why should government grants go to students who are taking courses from underperforming colleges, when there are equivalent MOOC courses from top notch universities at no cost[1].

According to a New York Times article “Public Universities to Offer Free Online Classes for Credit”, a consortium of universities are planning to offer online for courses for free and for credit. They are making a strong bet that their students will continue on to get a degree (by paying to take the more advance courses to obtain a degree).[2]


[1] Wall Street Journal article “Obama, Rubio Take On Colleges” ed. February 21, 2013

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