The Internet's Impact

Everybody already knows that the internet is a big deal.  That's nothing new.  However, when you think about all of the opportunities that are presented to us on a daily basis, it can make anybody feel a bit guilty.  Thanks to the world wide web, it is possible for anyone in the world with a connection to learn about virtually any topic they choose.  The types of seminars and lectures that used to be reserved for expensive college classes are now available for streaming free of charge.  The same cutting-edge articles and books in fields like science, mathematics, engineering, and technology, that used to be reserved for exclusive magazine subscribers and customers, can now be read by anyone without paying a penny.

And yet, what do most of us internet users tend to spend our time doing while we are browsing?  #Tweeting.  Or "Liking" the fact that our cousin's friend just finished cooking a meal for her family.  We watch funny cat videos on YouTube and play basic in-browser flash games.

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If you went back in time a mere century, and told people in the 1910s that in just a century, they would have practically free access to an entity containing more information than the largest libraries in the world combined, what would they say?  They would not see the web as a place to end boredom, but rather, to inspire and further oneself.  It can be rather saddening to think about.  The current generation has more chances to learn and discover in a day than scholars of the past had in a lifetime.

However, many are just not aware of the opportunities being presented to them every single day.  Slowly though, that is changing.  More and more people are enrolling into online collegiate institutions in order to earn credits and degrees, as well as further their careers.  Better yet, some of the wiser men and women around the world have begun posting videos online of what they have teach, and not charging any money for doing so.  It is now possible to watch and learn from dozens upon dozens of college courses, no matter your age or financial situation.  It's uplifting to think that many thousands of people are beginning to find these types of websites, and can now see the internet as a place of #education, instead of just #entertainment.

Where To Look?

Every single day, new websites open their doors and attempt to teach people new skills.  However, there are a few websites that are particularly well known, almost like central hubs of online education.  Among them are:

Yes, the same website that's guilty of wasting so many users' time with funny yet utterly pointless clips can be used for learning.  It would be a lie to say that YouTube is without any opportunities for teaching.  Being the largest video source on the internet, as well as the #3 most viewed website in the world does have its advantages.  Sooner or later, useful tip and teaching videos are bound to pop up, and in the case of YouTube since 2005, this has slowly happened over time.

Udacity is a relatively new website (it launched in 2011), but is perhaps the best and one of the most well-known MOOC (that's Massive Open Online Course) websites.  Udacity was started by Sebastian Thrun, a college professor at Standford University.  The site offers free interactive courses in subjects like computer science, mathematics, and business.  Each course also has open forums for registered members (that's free registered members) to discuss confusing or interesting parts of the class.  What's particularly intriguing about Udacity though is the diversity in the people teaching the classes.  You're getting a free education from all kinds of different people.  Some seminars are run by college professors from institutions like the University of Virginia and San Jose State University.  Others are run by people well known and respected in that field of study, such as programming courses from developers at Google and Microsoft, and business courses from successful entrepreneurs.

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The not-for-profit organization Khan Academy's catch phrase "Learn Almost Anything For Free" about sums up the website in a nutshell.  With a growing library of more than 4,200 videos in almost every subject you can think of, it's a massive collection that's too much for anyone to take in in its entirety.  They already have videos to watch in subjects like computer science, biology, chemistry, physics, government, and history, plus they are constantly expanding.  The site launched in 2006, and in 2011, the founder had his own TED talk.

Coursera is another MOOC, with almost 400 different courses available to any and all.  Just like Udacity, it offers a very interactive online classroom experience where those enrolled can be in constant contact with fellow students, as well as the course instructor.  Classes are taught by professors from prestigious and well known colleges around the world, including Yale, Stanford, Princeton, University of London, and a whole lot more.  Another thing that sets Coursera apart is its available studies in subjects apart from just computers/math/science (though those are there too.)  There are opportunities to join and learn with like-minded people in classes about the history of rock, songwriting, philosophy, photography, health/fitness, and art.

iTunes U

If you have a compatible device (that basically means an iPad) then you may want to look into the iTunes U application.  There are all kinds of different courses across many fields already developed for it, and more are being added regularly.  It also features a variety of unique features for those students enrolled.  For instance, students can access all of the information from the course in one place, and can check off completed assignments as they go.  They also have note-sharing abilities, and access to resources to further enrich the education they are receiving.  The application supports multimedia integration, so the professors and other educators beyond the classes can bring in videos, .pdf files, web links, charts and pictures, as well as books registered through iBooks.

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