Recently in the U.S. there has been an increase in the number free online courses available. This is probably due to the increasing number of Americans wanting to pursue further study and the fact that traditional campus-based courses are increasingly more expensive.
These free online courses are usually available in the format of Massive Open Online Courses, which are often comically abbreviated as MOOCs. Massive Open Online Courses are a recent development in distance learning which are designed to allow an unlimited amount of students from all over the world to partake on an education course over the internet. Typically, these courses are quite short; many can be completed in a matter of weeks with low commitment hours. The flexibility of an online course and the relatively low commitment makes these free online courses a popular choice for stay at home moms or dads and those already in employment as they can study around their other commitments.
There is an excellent variety of courses available, ranging from psychology and writing to math and business. There are usually no entry requirements, if you want to study renaissance architecture all you need is a basic knowledge of the period and an interest in architecture. However, for some of the more advance free online courses there are a list of recommended prerequisites, for example to join a biostatistics course, it is recommended that you have a good mathematical background and are familiar with calculus. These lower entry requirements make education more accessible, allowing individuals the chance to pursue a subject for the sheer love or curiosity of it!
How do they work?
MOOCs operate in a similar way to paid online courses. Students are taught through short videos, audio lectures and a range of online resources for independent study. In addition, on a MOOC there is an increased emphasis on participant interaction via forums, chat boards and emails. This allows students and professors all over the globe to collaborate and share ideas.
You are usually assessed via online quizzes and tests, however, some courses may test their students through peer-assessed essays.
The benefits of free online courses
Studying a MOOC can prove very advantageous and hundreds of students are already getting involved with this new branch of distance learning. Some of the benefits of these free online courses include the following:
- MOOCs are a cheap way to get access to high-quality education courses and many of them are offered by prestigious colleges from around the world.
- Due to the flexibility of online study, these courses can be completed whilst fulfilling other commitments, such as full-time education, employment or caring for children.
- If you are considering going to college but are uncertain what course to pursue, a MOOC can be a great way to get a feel for what a course is like. In addition, if you know what you want to study at college, a MOOC can give you a head start!
- While there are not many MOOCs that have formal university credits, you will get an accomplishment certificate upon completion.
Things to consider
While MOOCs have a number of benefits, before enrolling there are a number of factors that you should take into consideration.
- Firstly, as most courses are not accredited, a MOOC does not replace a college degree. However, it can complement it.
- As with other online courses, there is no face-to-face student and teacher interaction, some people find this quite difficult and at times a little isolating.
- Drop-out rates are very high. Indeed, for some courses dropout rates of 90% have been reported!
- You will need to be relatively computer literate to enroll on to one of these courses. This can be a problem for hopeful students who aren’t too good with computers.