MOOCs and More: Free Online Learning

Distance learning is not a new topic in technology, as many schools have offered some form of online or televised classes for many years. New Jersey’s Thomas Edison State College has been offering degrees based on distance learning as an accredited school for decades. But now that more people have high speed internet and an interest in learning a broad range of subjects, online education is booming and many classes can be taken for free as long as you are not seeking credit. The classes are not even limited to college level philosophy either; there are places you can turn to if you need to learn English, take up a new hobby or want to brush up on life skills, like balancing a checkbook or crafting a cover letter.

GCF Learn Free
The site with perhaps the broadest array of topics is GCF Learn Free, which is run by Goodwill, offering a full catalog of free tutorials. Some of the topics are covered in a video, others use flip charts to walk you through the steps needed to complete a task and some teach via an interactive game. If you are looking to figure out how to use Facebook, learn to properly set an oven to bake, or brush up on workplace skills, this site is a good place to start.

A similar site with more advanced topics is Alison. Here, you will find more structured learning options that run a little longer and take a more in-depth approach to covering a topic, sometimes having a series of longer videos or more detailed worksheets. The subject matter still covers basics, like “soft skills” and job searching tips, but it is also the place to turn if you want to start learning to speak Irish or want to brush up on elementary school curriculum planning.

Khan Academy
Khan Academy sticks to more academic topics, particularly those geared to upper elementary to high school, with some basic college subjects covered as well. While it is a good place to turn if you want to get your children started working on higher level subjects or re-enforce what they are learning in school, the site is presented in a professional enough manner so an adult could also work through the lessons without feeling like they are playing a game or watching a cartoon. Topics range from reading and math skills to economics and computer science.

MOOCs or massive open online courses, are the new distance learning model for colleges and universities. Most of the courses are offered for free if you just want to view the lectures. Some also offer online discussion forums as part of the free course. If you want to earn actual credit, you will need to enroll in order to receive assignments, grades and some course materials. Almost all the major higher education institutes offer some form of online program in the form of a MOOC, but the easiest way to find out which ones are offering courses you might be interested in is to take a look on Coursera or EDX, two sites that aggregate course catalogs so you could see all math courses, for example, regardless if they are offered by Stanford, MIT or somewhere else. For Apple devices, there is even an app, iTunesU, that will let you do the same type of search and then take the class via the app.

Finally, there are specialized websites that will offer a mix of free and for-fee learning options focused on their products. One of these is the Microsoft Virtual Academy, which covers everything from developing programs and apps for Windows to learning the basics of Word. Other software developers and hardware companies do offer similar learning centers, but these may be hidden and you will need to call customer service or the support center to get information on how to join.

Laura N.

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