Here at Forever Young Blog — where you find information and advice on leading a happier, healthier and more successful life, at any age — “keep learning” is one of our mantras.
And, boy, is that getting easier.
There has been an explosion of free online courses offered by top universities.
How “top?” How ‘bout Stanford, Yale, Harvard, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, UC Berkeley. That’s about as “top” as you can get.
Did I mention that these online courses are FREE. Without charge. Gratis. Complimentary. On the house. (Warning: I’ve got a thesaurus and I’m not afraid to use it.)
Before I tell you about my experience with my first free online class, let me explain how free online courses are changing the face of education.
What Is A Free Online Course Like
In the biz, the free online courses are called massively open online courses, or MOOCs. They can reach tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of students at once.
MOOCs typically include video lesson segments and embedded quizzes with immediate feedback. Students proceed at their own pace.
Some of the courses are graded and lead to certificates, but not to college credit or degrees.
We appear to be at a tipping point, where the cost and ease of putting a course online makes it feasible for more and more courses to be offered..
However, this field is in its infancy, and changes in the delivery and format of the corses will undoubtedly occur as the field matures. Five years from now, the courses should be even better than they are now.
The courses are ideal for those who want to burnish their resume, advance their career, or just learn more and expand their knowledge.
Who Offers Free Online Courses
At this point, there are three main players in the free online college course field.
Coursera is a new company that offers almost 50 free online courses in a wide range of topics spanning the Humanities, Medicine, Biology, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Business and Computer Science.
So far, they host courses from Princeton University, Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Pennsylvania
I took Computer Science 101, presented by Stanford University professor Nick Parlante. I’ll tell you more about my experience below.
Udacity was founded by three roboticists who believed much of the educational value of their university classes could be offered online.
So far, they have been proven right . . . big time.
One of the founders is Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford professor who made headlines last fall when 160,000 students signed up for his Artificial Intelligence course.
So far, Udacity has attracted more than 200,000 students to their six, computer-related courses. One of their courses is “How To Build A Search Engine,” like Google. I may have to check that one out.
Udacity plans more, and wider-ranging, courses.
EdX, a non-profit partnership between Harvard and MIT, is the newest entry into the free online college course field.
Before the partnership was formed in mid-2012, MIT offered its first online course in Circuits and Electronics, and 120,000 students signed up!
EdX is expected to offer its first 5 courses in the fall of 2012.
Not all of their courses will be in engineering. There will be humanities courses, too.
The Ramifications Of Free Online Courses
This is a very exciting new development.
Well, actually, it is not new. But it is improved.
There have been previous university attempts at online education which failed. Columbia University introduced Fathom, a 2001 commercial venture that involved the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan and others. However, it lost money and folded in 2003. Yale, Princeton and Stanford collaborated on AllLearn, a nonprofit effort that collapsed in 2006.
But, this time free online classes are here to stay, and I think they will revolutionize how education is delivered.
Instead of top professors lecturing to 200 students at a time, they will teach 200,000 at a time.
Poor health, lack of finances and even remote location will not limit students. Anyone any place in the world who has an Internet connection will be able to take these free online college courses.
Imagine: You get the education without also getting the choking student loans.
Now that’s exciting.
Computer Science 101 Taught By Nick Parlante Of Stanford University
Over 5 weeks, I took a 6 lesson course in Computer Science 101 which was taught by Stanford University professor Nick Parlante.
(This course fulfills a dream of mine, kinda. If I had a chance to do again, instead of attending the college that I actually attended – East Japip State Teachers College – if their admissions policy hiccuped and I could get admitted, I would go to Stanford.)
This 1-minute video is Nick Parlante describing his Computer Science 101 course.
This is how the course was described at coursera:
CS101 teaches the essential ideas of Computer Science for a zero-prior-experience audience. Computers can appear very complicated, but in reality, computers work within just a few, simple patterns. CS101 demystifies and brings those patterns to life, which is useful for anyone using computers today.
In CS101, students play and experiment with short bits of “computer code” to bring to life to the power and limitations of computers. Everything works within the browser, so there is no extra software to download or install. CS101 also provides a general background on computers today: what is a computer, what is hardware, what is software, what is the internet. No previous experience is required other than the ability to use a web browser.
More specifically, we studied such things as . . .
- The nature of computers and code and what they can and cannot do
- How computer hardware works: chips, cpu, memory, disk
- Necessary jargon: bits, bytes, megabytes, gigabytes
- How software works: what is a program, what is “running”
- How digital images work
- How the internet works: ip address, routing, ethernet, wi-fi
- Computer security: viruses, trojans, and passwords, oh my!
- Analog vs. digital
- Digital media, images, sounds, video, compression
Each week’s course material arrived on Monday and I had more than 1 week to complete it, including doing the “lab work” exercises. It took about 1 to 2 hours per week to watch the lectures and do the work.
Nick Parlante’s enthusiasm infuses the course, his explanations and analogies make learning the material easy and his easy charm make it all fun.
This was a great experience and I give this course, and even more so the idea of free online courses, my highest recommendation.
Next, I’m heading to the Ivy League. Won’t you join me in my next course, Basic Behavioral Neurology, which will be taught by Roy Hamilton, M.D., a professor at the University of Pennsylvania?