Monday, January 26, 2015

Free Online Classes Part 1: Resources

As can be seen on my 2015 goals, I would like to be continuously learning and to help facilitate that I have a goal to take on online class. I had this goal in 2014 as well and I just could never find the time to complete it. I don't know how 2015 will be any different, I am probably more busy now than I was last year. But it is something important to me so I still want to make it a priority this year.

As part of completing this goal I would like to share my experience with all of you in hopes that I might help those who may be interested in continuing their education. The first step in starting the process is knowing what resources are available to facilitate high quality learning at rock bottom prices, or no prices to be more accurate. Below are three high quality and free learning resources.

edX was originally founded as a joint venture between MIT and Harvard and offers free multi-media online courses. While the program started with MIT and Harvard, edX now offers courses from Berkeley, Caltech, Cornell as well as a number of international universities. Courses are available in a wide range of topics; from the edX website:
Topics include biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, finance, electronics, engineering, food and nutrition, history, humanities, law, literature, math, medicine, music, philosophy, physics, science, statistics and more. EdX is a non-profit online initiative created by founding partners Harvard and MIT.
edX goes beyond posting videos of lectures and strives to provide the best possible platform for learning and teaching. Lecture videos are supplemented with examples, labs, exercises, and tests. All classes can be taken for free but, for a fee, can be taken to earn an official certificate of achievement. Some schools even offer university credit for these classes/certificates.


Kahn Academy
The Kahn Academy focuses on videos of individual topics instead of full courses. The individual videos are grouped together to form a playlist, of sorts, of broader subject areas. For instance, you can watch a specific video on the topic of subtracting variables from both sides of an equation, this video is a subset of linear equations which is a subset of Algebra 1.  Topics include Math, Science, Economics, Arts, Computing, and Test Prep. The content varies between Kindergarten and College level subjects.

Kahn Academy was started when the founder was tutoring his cousin in math long distance, and Kahn Academy is still heavily focused on math with a goal of providing a complete learning system from Kindergarten math all the way up to multi-variable calculus. One great aspect of the Kahn Academy is that offers a variety of learning paths that cover the same topic area so someone trying to refresh his memory can start on a different path than someone learning the subject for very the first time.

I recently used Kahn Academy to help with a project at work; either I never learned how to project vectors onto planes or I completely forgot about it (or more likely, blocked it out of memory). What is really nice about Kahn Academy is that individual videos will show up on Google searches. For instance, a Kahn video was one of the first results when I Googled "project vector onto plane" and while that particular video was not what I want I eventually found a video that helped.

Open Learning Initiative (OLI)
OLI is a grant funded initiative at Carnegie Mellon University. OLI is mostly text based learning but does feature some virtual labs, examples, and quizzes. In addition, OLI is able to record student metrics in real time to help course-designers and instructors improve their craft. For instance if a majority of  students spend an abnormal amount of time on one page, that could indicate a place for improvement in the course's content. One disadvantage of OLI is that it has a very small offering of free courses, less 30 courses are currently available. But one advantage of OLI is that is is very quick to get started and you can start immediately without any signup up or tutorials.

There a lot of free resources available for expanding your knowledge, certainly more than I have listed here. But I think these three organization provide a great starting place for continuing education. edX is the most expansive of the resources offering the most classes from the most universities. Kahn Academy however offers the easiest path to learning about a specific topic; you can skip to the one short(er) video of interest to you without having to wade through rest of the material of a much larger course. And while OLI had the smallest offering of courses it was very quick and easy to get started. Of course with all resources being free there is no reason not to pick and choose what interests you the most.

What about you? Would you take online courses to further your knowledge? Do you know of any other free resources you would like to share?

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