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Posted at: Aug 31, 2016, 12:42 AM; last updated: Aug 31, 2016, 12:42 AM (IST)

Make the MOOC move

Sometimes you want to take a course just for the sheer joy of learning something new. A other times you need to complete a course for a better job, a promotion, or a college application. Anyone and everyone can take up an online course and improve their career prospects

Usha Albuquerque

On your phone 24x7?  Now use it to increase your knowledge, pick up a skill and even get a degree or diploma. Today digital technology has taken learning to another level. Online learning, or e-learning —  the process of learning using various types of media that deliver text, audio, images, animation, and streaming video — diffuses knowledge and learning without borders. 

Practically every professional course and skill can be learnt through online education nowadays. There are diploma and certificate programmes in accounting, computer networking, cyber law, creative writing, disaster management,  mass communication and journalism, fashion design and merchandising,  data analytics, E-commerce etc.  There are even distance learning courses in poultry farming and bee-keeping. 

What’s  more, this phenomenon is enabling individual students from any part of the world to access Ivy league content and the best-in-class education taught by top faculty at top universities like Stanford, Harvard, MIT and others, for free, or nominal  charges.  

Under the massive open online courses (MOOCs) system, such courses cover a wide variety of subjects and careers from business management, economics and all the sciences to professional courses in teaching, law, library science, journalism, computers, biotechnology, agriculture and linguistics, hotel management and so on. 

So today you can as easily pick up a course in commerce and history for enhancing your educational qualifications, as you can on Chinese architecture, war in the Middle East, life beyond the planets, or genomic medicine, for further widening your horizons.  

Many of the courses provide students with course materials, contact classes, and often multimedia facilities through classrooms without walls. Such courses can also help students with enhanced classes for supplementary learning of school and college subjects, like Salman Khan of Khan Academy has demonstrated so ably. 

However, it is too early to predict the course or influence of MOOCs in India especially but it could be  valuable for many students who want to save on the cost of an international higher education degree or for those who simply want to experiment with different academic courses before applying to a foreign university. 

Here are some websites that you can browse to look for  MOOCs of your choice :

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Coursera offers access to the world’s best education, partnering with top universities and organisations for a variety of courses of study.  It has 33 partner universities and nearly 200 courses ranging from business, data science and geographic information systems to music, theology and personal development. You can learn at your own pace and convenience, complete peer graded assessments, and connect with fellow learners and instructors.

For example, if you are a student of Computer Science and want to pick up some additional computer skills, an interesting programme is:

Learn to programme & Analyse data with Python-  a programme of 5 courses created by the University of Michigan and delivered online through Coursera. This Specialisation introduces you to fundamental programming concepts,  including data structures, networked application program interfaces, and databases, using the Python programming language, with projects designed to help you practice and apply skills. 

The course has no pre-requisites and avoids complicated mathematics. Anyone with moderate computer experience should be able to master the materials in this course.

Each course in the specialisation is offered on a regular schedule, with sessions starting about once per month. Time to complete the courses can vary based on your schedule and experience level, although most learners are able to complete this specialisation in about 8 months. You can choose to take up one or more courses, or the complete programme.

In terms of costs, such courses carry fees of around  Rs 3975 per course, or about  Rs 20,000/- for the whole five-course programme.

There are a number of other similar courses for computer science students —  a 5-course specialisation in  Java programming  from Duke University  

  • A 6-course programme in Data Structures from the University of San Diego, California 
  • A course in Game design & development from Michigan State University
  • iOS App Development with Swift from University of Toronto, and many others.
Coursera courses and certificates don’t carry university credit, though some universities may choose to award Specialisation Certificates for credit.

ALISON provides over 750 free online diploma and certificate courses. Here the courses are broken down into nine distinct categories — diploma courses, business and enterprise skills courses, digital literacy and IT skills, personal development and soft skills, languages, health and safety and compliance, health literacy, financial and economic literacy  and courses from various schools’ curricula. This allows users to quickly see what kinds of courses are available and helps them pick an area they would like to study. 

Here is an interesting example : 

Diploma in Social Media Marketing: This free, online social media course  covers the concepts and application of social media marketing and will equip you with the skills to plan and implement a successful social media marketing strategy while offering you social media certification.

The course includes topics such as the use of email marketing, affiliate marketing, using social media tools such as Twitter, podcasting and blogging, understand affiliate marketing and different methods that can help increase website traffic, and how to use Facebook / Twitter etc to create a business page and get it noticed by current and potential customers.

This 15-20 hour course is good for those wanting to advance their career prospects in  social media marketing, with an international certification.  To qualify for the official ALISON Diploma, Certificate or PDF you must study and complete all modules and score 80% or more in the course assessments.

EdX is another online initiative created by founding partners Harvard and MIT Universities, offering interactive online classes and MOOCs from the world’s best universities, such as  MIT, Harvard, Univerity of  Berkeley, University of Toronto etc. 

EdX  also offers more than 900 courses, including in biology, chemistry, computer science, economics, business, finance,engineering, food and nutrition, humanities, law, literature, medicine, music etc. All courses are free of cost, except for a nominal charge for the certificate, if required. Some interesting and topical courses are:

Actuarial Science: An interesting example for students of commerce could be a MOOC in Actuarial Science. Suitable for students of basic high school maths, this course teaches  the basics of actuarial science, incorporating applying actuarial techniques to life insurance,  uncertainty in cash flows due to investment and mortality, and predicting human life expectancy. This course readies students for a career as an actuary and is an 8-week course from the Australian National University  requiring 2-4 hours a week, and is offered free-of-cost on EdX. If required you can get an instructor-signed certificate for $49 with the institution's logo to verify your completion of the course work.

There are several more MOOCs learning platforms, including our own Indian NPTEL 

The National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) a Government of India-sponsored collaborative educational programme, which  carries engineering, science & humanities subject material  from several major universities and institutes, including IITs and IISc Bangalore. 

Making college education accessible to a larger number of students has been the goal for most of the enthusiastic advocates of MOOCs. 

Their interactive technology promises to deliver top-tier teaching from institutions like Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, not just to a few hundred students in a lecture hall on ivy-draped campuses, but free via the Internet to thousands or even millions around the world. 

It is believed that today there are more than 25 million learners, accessing this free online educational service. It is a new learning model that has inspired education providers to provide quality training in a structured environment. And while  such programmes may not quite be able to  replace the traditional classrooms, they are useful to gain additional knowledge, and gain skills that may otherwise be difficult, if not impossible to attain. 

This method of learning is particularly useful for those who already know what they want to learn, and wish to enhance and augment their learning. But you can also get all your education from MOOCs and pay a fraction of what you would spend to get a university degree.  

So, don’t lose heart if you are unable to get into the college or institute of your choice, whatever course of study you wish to take up, look for and find a similar course available through MOOCs — an opportunity waiting to be picked.

Set up by Salman Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School, the website offers lessons for all age groups in maths, science, computer programming, history, art history, economics, IITJEE and SAT preparation and more. 

Khan Academy offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalised learning dashboard that empowers learners to study at their own pace in and outside of the classroom. 

This is a free learning resource which is personalised for every student from kindergarten to calculus using state-of-the-art, adaptive technology that identifies strengths and learning gaps. Each student receives a custom learning dashboard that enables them to learn and practice skills at their own pace and based on their levels and assignments.

Every problem has interactive hints, step-by-step solutions, and videos, so students can get extra help when they need it. Teachers can access each student’s problem history to identify learning gaps and provide additional guidance, while parents get quick email updates to see their children's progress as they learn, and add practice skills as required.

— The writer is Director, Careers Smart Pvt Ltd., New Delhi


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