TIPS: Free Online Education

A revolution in education is taking place, involving the country’s top universities and the latest Internet technology. PSGCNJ members can take advantage of this to improve their skills and learn new ones, and best of all, it’s FREE!
The largest free online education offering so far is from Coursera, a joint venture between Princeton, Stanford, UPenn, UCal/Berkeley, UMichigan, and others. A variety of subject areas are offered, although, as may be expected, computer science and mathematics predominate. Courses consist of lectures broken down into five to 20 minute segments with one or two embedded questions. Some have programming assignments that are submitted electronically; others have midterms and/or finals.
Other programs are from a joint MIT and Harvard venture, edX , an independent company, Udacity, and some universities independently such as Caltech. In addition, the Khan Academy, which is more focused on high school level subjects, does provide lessons that review prerequisites for the other courses.
What do you learn? It varies. The first MITx offering was a sophomore electrical engineering course that was very close to the actual course. Caltech’s course is the actual course lectures. Coursera varies, but overall the Coursera and Udacity offerings seem a bit less intense. Udacity’s offerings are the most entertaining.
Since these programs are just starting, the various groups are still working out details. The greatest advantage is that the courses are free. The disadvantage is while certificates are issued for passing grades, no college credits are attached.
Many of the courses are offered on specific dates with homework assignments and exams due by a specific time in order to be counted for credit. However, a student can view all the lectures without ever submitting a single homework assignment.
The courses are attended by students from all around the globe. Having access to the top U.S. universities is a unique opportunity in Cairo, Egypt, or Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. 155k students started the MIT class; 28k tried the first homework; 11k tried the midterm; and 7,500 earned the certificate.
Courses range from two to three hours per week, to 10-15 hours per week, depending on the material’s difficulty. Because the lectures can be repeated, students can review material or concentrate on difficult sections. In many ways, this makes it easier to learn the material than sitting in an actual lecture. Students can fit their coursework around their other schedules.
This form of Internet education may be superior to actual classroom lectures. By allowing the best teachers to reach the most students, it may become the mainstream technique for education in the future, increasing quality, student comprehension, and reducing costs all at the same time.

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