Student Life

Free, Online Classes: The Way of the Future?

How do you feel about free, online classes?

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

July 19, 2012

Free, Online Classes: The Way of the Future?
Online learning is nothing revolutionary at this point in higher education, but when a large university offers free, online classes, it’s a pretty big deal. In May, we reported that Harvard and MIT were teaming up to provide students online access to an Ivy League education without paying a dime through their collaborative program, edX. The first course drew nearly 120,000 interested students, as reported by The Atlantic. Yesterday, the University of Illinois opened up its virtual doors with a similar free, online program and received enrollments from over 14,000 interested individuals in just the first day, according to the Chicago Tribune. U of I is the latest large, research university to team up with Coursera, a “social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.” Coursera also features courses through Stanford University, University of Michigan and Princeton University, among others. These courses range in variety, from serious courses like Algorithms to more fun, creative classes like Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World.
Online programs like edX and Coursera are known as massive open online courses, or MOOC. They enable a large amount of students to take classes and in these instances, engage in learning that could only be received at top-tier institutions. Othere MOOCs like Khan Academy help to supplement or reinforce subject matter that students are learning in their actual, physical classrooms. MOOCs, though, are learning for the sake of learning. Unfortunately, you can’t take one of these free courses online and earn credit at your institution of higher learning. But, these types of classes could have a pay-off in the end. For example, students can learn how to create smartphone applications through one of U of I’s Coursera courses, according to the Huffington Post. A student could take the course, design an application and make a profit in the smartphone world. Given the success of programs like Coursera and edX, today’s avid learners can anticipate that even more schools will jump on the bandwagon and provide free access to their courses, materials and faculty – which some feel could change higher education for the better, making it more easily attainable and affordable for everyone. Do you like the idea of MOOC courses? Why would you take one – or why wouldn’t you?

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