Learning is a life-long process, they say.
But because I move around a lot and have to work, joining an actual class is impractical, not to mention expensive. I’m not learning to further my career, after all.
I could spend hours looking through Wikipedia entries on various subjects. But learning is not as fun when there’s mostly text to read. Some audio and video would be nice.
Not being able to discuss things with other people sucks, too. They may see things differently than I do, which often gives me a richer, multi-dimensional perspective to the concepts I’m learning.
This is where free online courses come into play
They follow me wherever I travel; they let me join a class at any time of the day; they’re taught by actual university professors (from the likes of Yale University and The University of Tokyo); and have I mentioned they’re free?
All you need to join a class is a computer with a good Internet connection. You can take these courses even when you’re traveling to a new city with no job prospects and not enough money in the bank.
Distance learning gets a bad rep
They don’t get as much recognition as regular courses and perhaps that’s for good reason — students of online courses have lower completion rates compared to students who learn in a regular classroom environment.
But if you think that means online courses have failed, then you’re missing the mark. They’re not always meant to replace university education; at the very least, they enrich the learning experience.
My Experience with Free Online Courses
I’m enrolled in a few free online courses in Coursera, but I’ve let some of them end without finishing them.
It’s not that they were bad courses; on the contrary, I enjoyed the video lectures so much I could watch them back-to-back for hours. One course even offered a trip to see the Dalai Lama for the top student.
I just had a problem with scheduling and time management. In other words: “it’s not Coursera, it’s me”.
But just because I haven’t finished the course doesn’t mean it was a waste of time. For example, one video lecture has given me insight on behavioral psychology and how it could help me save money (I’ll share this in a future blog post).
Is free online education for you?
You shouldn’t take free online courses to get formal recognition of your learning. After all, you can’t accumulate university credits through most of these courses; nor are you likely to impress possible employers with these online credentials.
But these free online courses could be a great resource for you if:
- you just want to learn new things in an interactive environment (you can have discussions with the lecturers and other students in the online forums).
- you’re preparing yourself for university and want a head start on your studies.
- you’re trying to figure out what you want to do for a career.
(Some paid online university courses offer full recognition for your studies, but I don’t have any experience with them. This post is only about free online courses.)
The best free online learning resources
The biggest and most popular free online learning provider is Coursera. Udacity and edX also provide worthy alternatives. All three offer interactive courses taught by professors from top international universities.
If you don’t need the razzle-dazzle of videos and interactive communication systems, you could also learn the old-fashioned way: by reading. MIT opens up its course materials to the public so anyone can access them for free here.