Online college classes have experienced a surge in popularity over the past decade, but distance learning has actually been occurring for hundreds of years. Mail order programs in the 19th century and eventually telephone and videos allowed students who could not attend traditional schools to study and learn on their own schedules.
These days, many students who are enrolled in college or university take some or all of their classes online without setting foot in an actual classroom. College credit and eventually college degrees can be earned by taking these classes, and tuition—which is often higher than the tuition for taking the same or similar classes on a physical college campus—is required. Taking classes online allows working adults with families the opportunity to go back to college with much more flexibility than attending traditional classes.
Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are a more recent development in online education. Unlike the classes mentioned above that charge tuition and fees, MOOCs are free and open to anyone interested in learning. Three of the most popular organizations and websites that currently offer MOOCs are:
Coursera, which presently offers free courses in 18 categories from 33 well-known universities including Duke, Ohio State, Princeton, Stanford and more. Coursera reports that over 1,080,000 students from 196 countries have enrolled in at least one course.
Udacity, a private organization with the goal of democratizing education, currently offers 14 free classes. Classes range from beginner levels, such as Intro to Computer Science: Building a Search Engine, to advanced, such as Artificial Intelligence: Programming a Robotic Car.
edX, a joint non-for-profit venture between Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University that was recently joined by the University of California, Berkeley. edX currently offers free courses from those three universities. Offerings include Introduction to Solid State Chemistry, Introduction to Computer Science I, and Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.
Although most MOOCs are not for college credit and therefore can’t help you earn a degree (some schools do have plans for awarding credit for MOOCs in the works) they offer a variety of benefits to students:
The Huffington Post reports that MOOCs are mainly attracting older workers who want to upgrade their skills yet do not have time or money to attend traditional classes on campus. “I believe it will ultimately revolutionize education,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau says of MOOCs.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
Have something to say? Feel free to add comments or additional information.