How to Take an Online Class for Free with MOOCs

How to Take an Online Class for Free with MOOCs
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Not everyone can afford to go to college. Tuition for the 2012-2013 academic year averaged $22,000 at a public institution; double at a private school.1 Yet, there is no guarantee of a job at graduation. MOOCs offer everyone, including college students, a chance to take courses in selected fields without the worries of classes being closed because of high enrollment. Most of these courses are offered without any college credit. However, at some schools, that is changing.

What makes a MOOC special is its open access, interactive participation via the Internet, and no limit on attendance. Besides standard course material such as readings, videos, quizzes and tests, this type of distance or eLearning also creates communities for the students, professors and teaching assistants to interact in together, typically through user forums. In other words, today’s MOOC is what correspondence courses were in the 20th century.

Who Offers Massive Open Online Courses?

MOOCs are offered at number of elite U.S. universities such as U.C. Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard and Yale, and often in partnership with several organizers, the three main being Coursera, edX and Udacity. Fields of study include sciences, medicine, computer science, engineering, arts and humanities, information technology, business and mathematics, although there is no scope to the number and types of classes an organizer provides. To understand how a MOOC program truly works, you need to learn more about its main organizers:

Coursera: An educational technology company founded in 2012 by Stanford University computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. The organization started working with four elite colleges, but beginning June 2013, had already joined forces with roughly 70 global partners including Brown University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Tokyo.2 In January 2013, the American Council on Education approved five Coursera courses that students can take for college credit. This is a huge step forward for this type of education. The classes are offered by University of California, Irvine, Duke University and University of Pennsylvania.3

edX: This educational, not-for-profit provider, founded in May 2012 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, is available via open source license. It is composed of the leading global institutions of the xConsortium, whose goal is to enhance the teaching and learning experience. In June 2013, edX partnered with the International Monetary Fund to offer online financial and economic courses. This collaboration brought edX’s total number of schools under its non-profit status to 27.

Udacity: Founded in June 2011 by educator and Google fellow Sebastian Thrun, and colleagues David Stavens and Michael Sokolsky, Udacity is a private educational organization that grew from a series of free computer sciences classes offered at Stanford University. Beginning April 2013, it offered 24 courses. Students can receive certification once they attain different levels of mastery in a course. College credit cannot be earned by taking these courses.4

What Type of Students Take a MOOC?

MOOC is still such a new phenomenon (first courses offered in 2008) that its long-term results are still being scrutinized. However, what has been studied is the type of students who sign up for these online courses. A survey by Coursera hinted at the types of students who register.

For instance, Coursera offered a class called “Machine Learning” that had 104,000 students enrolled. In a sample of roughly 10 percent of these students, half was professionals in the tech industry, working mainly in software. Other types of students enrolled were graduate students, undergraduates, unemployed workers and professionals employed somewhere other than in the tech industry. A very small percentage of students enrolled in this specific class was high school students.5

Will This Phenomenon Last?

MOOC has come a long way in such a short amount of time. However, it’s unclear whether it will replace the actual education received at a college or university.