money in wallet

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There Are Options

There is an ever growing need for improving skills in order to compete with seasoned workers in the field. Going broke is no longer an option because there are certified online courses you can take free of charge. There are lots of universities and colleges that are jumping on the bandwagon to provide free courses to eager learners.

Whether employers like it or not, more people are turning to these free courses instead of dishing out untold amounts of cash just to obtain a piece of paper saying they attended some college. Why go to a college and take a bunch of courses where only a handful will be relevant to your chosen major? This is starting to sound like a rant because it kind of is one.

I went to college soon after high school to obtain an Associate's Degree at a technical school. Despite the degree, I couldn't get work within my area of expertise because every business I went to kept saying the same thing: you need a Bachelor's Degree. One of the main issues with obtaining a high level degree is the cost which increased constantly.

Not all experiences were bad because I learned from my mistakes. The knowledge gained is used in my writings and creative projects. Inside Higher Ed is a wonderful website I discovered while researching topics pertaining to earning an education online along with the future of financial aid.

Some months back, I attended one of their webinars that talked about online education; namely free online education. One of the models mentioned directed attention towards Khan Academy. Some felt they could improve upon the Khan model and therefore edX and coursera were born.

These particular education models are tagged as MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses. Some may frown upon this but if you look at them from afar you will see that its not as bad as it sounds. Each course, from what I've viewed, can last anywhere from 5 to 10 weeks on average.

Khan Academy

After seeing an interview of the site founder himself on CNBC, I finally decided to give the site a go. Compared to edX and coursera, the layout of courses is very different.

There's detailed descriptions about what each course has to offer. The impressive aspect, to me, would be the number of courses offered that cater to those from primary school on up through college. This would make Khan Academy far reaching to the demographics they are targeting.

The courses offered are divided into six main groups: Math, Science, Economics & Finance, Arts & Humanities, Computing along with Test Prep. Currently I'm studying Linear Algebra which is broken down into three parts; each with informative and easy to digest videos. You can actually begin learning the course material right away by creating an account to keep track of your progress along with achievements you make along the way.

Upon accessing the site, pay a visit to their About Us page. There's an introductory video along with several sections that compiles need to know basics in manageable bits. The math part was enjoyable especially after my nephew, age 7, explained how to solve the demo problem.

Khan Academy is a not for profit education source offering quality courses online for anyone interested in learning and or gaining a better understanding of course material. The Academy continues to provide quality offerings thanks to average joe's and renowned organizations, from varying backgrounds, supporting this massive online environment with donations as well as volunteer work.

One of the ways that donations are sent is through the AmazonSmile program which is also in use by the libraries in my area. All you have to do is go through the AmazonSmile site, which is part of Amazon dot com, select Khan Academy and purchase qualifying items. Once you're done shopping, a percentage of each qualifying piece will be donated to the Academy.



Personal logo illustration. Image illustrated in Illustrator.


Like Khan Academy, edX has expansive course offerings that will either fall under Professional Education, Verified or XSeries categories. With the categories combined, including one for high school, there are around 28 subjects.

As with the prior, the About Us page provides information in regards to the driving forces leading to the forging of the platform. Student FAQ is another section that needs looking into before you begin your studies along with the links in the side bar. 

Some months ago, I was looking to gain some insight in the area of teaching primary school and began my search here along with two other sites. Next, my focus shifted to learning more about art and design. Art & Culture was the first area I looked to followed by Humanities.

The offerings were wonderful however I couldn't find the course I had in mind. The courses presented were wonderful and stated their goals clearly but the collection is geared toward a specific direction. There is a promising course offered by Delftx that focuses on approaches in design.

All in all, edX has a nice collection of courses but you can't just pick up and begin. This doesn't apply to all, but there are courses that have a set time in which you can take them. As an example, the AP high school course offerings won't be available till some time next year (2015).

There are a variety of contributors, as they're called, that provide grounded courses in a variety of subject areas. Navigation to courses can only be done in accordance to subject via drop down menus. Its doable at first but after a while, it becomes tedious.

Despite this, the site contents are still on the user friendly side. You have to register for the site in order to sign up for courses even if the courses aren't starting immediately. Like Khan, the courses are free; with the exception of the verified certificate courses which have fees attached.



Remember when my little online course research expedition for teaching primary school? Coursera is one of the three sites researched. Upon entering the site my target search criteria was fulfilled almost instantly; and again with a recent revisit.

The teaching courses were easy to locate and even if they weren't on the home page, all that will be needed is the term "teaching" within the search box. Within seconds, all courses pertaining to teaching will show in a drop down menu. As with the prior, some courses are only available during a certain time frame.

Perfect time for exploring other course offerings. The difference here is that when you click on the courses link, a new page shows up with a nice listing of available courses. Yet, the sheer beauty of the layout comes from how the courses are listed to the right with the sort options to the left; that right there made my day.

Under the Arts category there are 31 courses in English. To me, the courses presented were more engaging and adhered to what I was searching for along with some bonuses. Even a search within the Humanities category turned up promising results totaling around 115 in English.

There is a balance of courses where you have a portion taking place within specific times while the remaining is available whenever. Like the others, there are a variety of contributors from varying backgrounds and languages that add to the richness of the platform. Their About page has been executed in a readable and easy to digest manner.


Tablet illustration of courses offered. Illustration compiled using Illustrator.


Site number three during the search for courses on teaching. Like the previous platforms, MIT's OpenCourseWare has an expansive collection of courses. It took some time, but after some additional research everything became clearer.

MIT OCW lays out its material in a fashion similar to Khan Academy; however, the approach to teaching is a bit different when it comes to certain parts. First off, finding the courses you're looking for is simple and to the point. Once chosen courses are found, you can review the briefing to see if they are a good fit.

Wondering about the registration process? Great because this is where the similarities start to split. With Khan, you can explore courses without having to go through the registration process before hand. Registering is encouraged because it will ensure that your progress is saved for future reference.

As with prior, MIT permits exploration of courses before committing to ones of interest. After selecting said courses you are free to begin your studies; no registration required. With all of this straightforwardness there's got to be a catch right?

From my POV, there's no catch but to others its a different animal. Here's the deal, after selecting the course you wish to study you are pretty much left to your own devices. All course materials are provided online along with some lecture videos where applicable.

There's no checking in with an instructor or class discussions about topics that were studied. You are, in essence, solely responsible for reviewing said course items; at your own pace of course. Despite the lack of an online classroom, they do provide a link where you can interact with others of whom are taking similar courses as yourself.

Some will view this as a turn off while others will view it as an added benefit. Of the plethora of information provided the only thing you won't come across are answers to provided tasks. This is not a deal breaker because the course material is based off of a working course.

Meaning, the instructors for the courses provide all necessary information minus answer sheets due to the far reaching nature of the free to access online courses. Still not a problem because as with all courses, answers are often presented via course materials.

Usually the About Us page is a major go to because everything is laid out in simple terms but for these guys, I'm directing you to their Help & FAQ page. Most notably the Getting Started link will be of great use.

As with the others, I explored their offerings for art and wasn't disappointed. Did some additional exploring and discovered more interesting courses that fit my interests well.

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Just a Sampling

Earning an education online via a university is no easy task especially when it comes to requirements along with mandatory, and sometimes tight, deadlines. There are even times when you aren't permitted to finish a course unless you have the exact stated software; no alternative software allowed. Worst yet is the cost of tuition for said education followed by fees and textbook costs.

Sure there's the much desired interaction with classroom inhabitants but there are times when interacting with them is like interacting with a brick wall lined with barbed wire. Khan Academy, edX, coursera and MIT OCW are nice alternatives to the ever changing norm of online education. All offer refreshing courses that are presented in a user friendly style.

You don't have to be perfect or highly knowledgeable to take their courses. All that's needed is a willingness to learn and a drive to finish what you start. This MOOC hubbub is difficult for some to swallow.

Before you start putting them down, try to take the presented information with a grain of salt, a spoon full of sugar or even a glass of white zinfandel. These online course offerings were designed to give education seekers a fighting chance without going broke in the process. In order to truly understand what the courses are like, its encouraged that you give them a try for yourself.