Friday, December 7, 2012

Raising awareness of sources of Free Online Education


So, being a firm believer in “Education is the fundamental right for all”, I decided to try and raise awareness through my blog about sources from where various courses in several areas of study (Science, Arts, Music, Business, Management, Finance, Mathematics, etc…) can be obtained.

I have tried to gather some of the most used / recommended sources where you can look at when it comes to studying online through distance education / virtual classrooms / virtual education or whatever you call it.

Lets begin:

What is iTunes U?
Well, not aware exactly of what U stands for, but I assume it stands for University. It is an amazingly super rich catalogue of tons of courses online from various reputed universities across the globe including some of the most reputed universities such as Harvard University, Stanford University, Berkeley, etc.

The course catalogue is updating very regularly and iTunes U is accessible through Mac as well as windows computers and even through mobile devices such as iPads, iPhones, iPod Touch.

How it works?
Well, everything is all for free on iTunes U, all you have to do is, simply select a course you want to study or attend, and click on subscribe button, in order to do this you do however need to have installed iTunes Software which is available for free download here.
Once you have subscribed to the course, it will start downloading all the study material to your computer, all the presentation slides, lectures and so on.. Once downloaded, you can view it at your own time and at your own pace.
You don’t get any certificates for the courses you attend through iTunes U, but the level of knowledge that is being shared online through this and other similar platforms is immense and could have cost a fortune if one wants to attend the lectures in person, but thanks to Internet, its now free for us!

Next is,


This is an education website created by two professors of Stanford University. Here all the courses are available for free and loads of them even give you a certificate depending on whether or not you finished the assignments and tests on time and the score you achieve.
They also have their career services (I think mostly for USA and are in process of getting in more overseas employers), through their career services they allow students an opportunity to meet prospective employers looking for similar skills based on what courses the students have taken.

Use of coursera.org is completely free, including courses, lectures, discussion forums, career services and so on. Not only that all the lectures are generally available for download so that if you have a slow / unreliable internet connection you can first let the lectures download and then view them at your pace and in your time.

Unlike iTunes U, one added benefit to this is that the lectures here are well structured, meaning they are released weekly, fortnightly, etc. on a regular basis so that gives a kind of real in person class like lecture environment where you are given a weeks worth of lectures to see and then finish certain assignments and then move on to next week and this goes on till the course finishes.

Apart from this, Coursera.org although has mostly technical (computers / IT) courses from beginners to expert levels, they also have some excellent non IT courses relating to Finance, Statistics, Business Management, Ancient Mythology and lots more. The catalogue is consistently being updated with new courses being added quite often. The course catalogue could be accessed here.

Next,

As described by Wikipedia, this is an initiative by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to put all of the education material from its undergraduate and graduate-level courses online, partly free and openly available to anyone, anywhere.

MIT is one of the world’s most reputed institutes, they have courses in various diverse disciplines and have therefore made available a huge amount of courses online through their open education initiative.

Courses are available not only in English but also in other languages such as Tradition Chinese / Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. The courses are translated to these languages so may be not all media is available in different languages for all the courses but as MIT mentions it on their OpenCourseWare website, its likely to be of significant nature.

Next,


A true story of how a single man based in USA started teaching his cousins through online video tutorials and then uploaded them for public view on youtube, once he started attracting too many views, he started making more videos and made them all available on youtube for free completely.

The name of the man is Salman Khan, and he himself makes the videos. He has received support from various world known organisations such as Microsoft (Bill Gates).
His movement is tremendous and a really inspiring one. He has been touching lives of millions across the planet and everyone, of every age is taking advantage of his bite size videos available on youtube.

His tutorials are across various disciplines and are very structured, in the sense, he ensures he finishes one particular area before jumping to another area of study.

The best thing about his videos is that, even small school kids for basic algebra can see his videos and learn in a lot more interactive way than what traditional schools are doing.

Khan academy also have a website where it facilitates various web based software technology for students as well as mentors / teachers to test the knowledge of the student and earn badges (as a source of motivation) as they go on scoring higher and higher in their tests.
Once they have excelled on a particular topic test, they can then move on to next area or more difficult area and continue in similar fashion by first studying through small video lectures and then instantly testing their knowledge through online testing.

All material at Khan academy is absolutely free, and the videos are all accessible at youtube.

Next on our list:

Udacity is a private educational organisation founded by Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens and Mike Sokolsky.
Their aim is to democrat education.

Almost all courses are based on Computers / IT, with a few on Physics, Statistics, Cryptography and so on.

It’s a wonderful source for those willing to have a career in IT due to its primary focus on computers / IT based courses.

They have partnered with Pearson VUE for certification purposes, so starting from 24 Aug 2012, students of CS101 can elect to take additional proctored 75 minute final exam for a fee of $89, this would allow Udacity classes to count towards credential that is recognised by the employers.

edX:
edX is a not for profit enterprise founded by in partnership of Harvard University and MIT.

Like Coursera, there are various universities who have partnered with edX and supporting them in providing free education. Although edX doesn’t have as many courses as does Coursera or Udacity, it has quality content just like every other source mentioned here.

A list of courses available at edX could be seen here.


All these websites are an amazing source of knowledge and have undoubtedly immense impact on people all over the planet, as these courses are being used in schools now where they have access to internet on a single computer but don’t have good enough expert teachers, so in small villages people who can speak English and have a computer / internet / projector gather children who want to study and arrange for free courses through these online education sources.

Reading books may sound boring (I personally prefer videos!) as they don’t interact with the one who is reading it, and they only make use of your eyes, whereas having video lectures and a person in front of you actually explaining the stuff, it becomes a lot more effective, as a result of which even younger children get attracted to study and study therefore becomes something they like to do rather than they having to do.

I am personally undergoing some courses through iTunes U and coursera.org at this moment and finding it very useful in enhancing my knowledge.

There are tons of other free sources (legal as well as illegal) but I have just shared what I have been personally using for quite some time now.
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