Regardless of whether or not a course generates a paper document to hang on your wall, if it enhances your skills, it is undoubtedly worthwhile. Some paid courses might give you a certificate of completion, for whatever that is worth, but you should know that some free courses do provide diplomas, too.
With this in mind, there are some rather distinct advantages to learning online, especially when you are also maintaining a full-time job. Leading among them is the sheer convenience of learning within your own time allowances. Night school (for example) can affect your work, disrupt your family, and even limit your social activities.
For instance, when working at your own pace, you’re free to decide that Tuesday and Wednesday will be your “school nights” with the rest of the week free. However, if your daughter happens to have a recital scheduled, or your son has a school play on one of those days, you’re free to skip that particular night, or move it to a different day. Catching up, or merely lengthening your schedule, is entirely up to you.
Here’s another valuable reason to consider online learning: If you’re one of the many living in a location frequently affected by extreme weather conditions, you can still “get to school” if it is online, with no regard to the conditions between you and the school parking lot.
Furthermore, you’ll even save on gas driving to school, and reduce your carbon footprint; you’ll save on transit costs if you don’t drive; you’ll save the time and frustration of fighting traffic, and then finding and paying for a place to park, meals out, and even laundry (if you’re content to work at home in your pajamas).
The New Normal
Some believe that attending a brick and mortar school of any sort may be going the way of the Dodo. It’s outrageously expensive and seriously inconvenient. Unless there is practical work required (e.g., medical interns need to perform physical examinations, police scientists need to know how to take a fingerprint, etc.), then a significant portion of it is often just a social occasion.
Our society has evolved such that video can replace what was formerly direct interaction. The very word “interactive” evolved because our technology pushed us apart from each other.
Once upon a time, everything was interactive; so much so that we didn’t have a word for it. You went to a play, or you acted; you listened to live music or you performed; you learned how to dance, or you taught people to dance. It was only in the late 20th century that we began to spend more time with our machines than with other humans.
We were numbly staring at computer screens, sending texts to someone in the next cubicle instead of talking to them. Our devices became surrogate people. Society has come around finally, and we’re starting to accept being interactive as normal again, albeit through our machines.
Just a taste
Here are a few online courses that could seriously alter your future career trajectory:
- “Data Science A-Z™” (Udemy)
- “Introduction to Computer Science” (Harvard)
- “Competitive Strategy” (Coursera)
- “High-Impact Business Writing” (Coursera)
- “Writing for the Web” (OPEN2STUDY)
- “Introduction to Programming in Java” (MIT)
- “Introduction to C and C++” (MIT)
- “HTML and CSS” (Codecademy — an excellent choice)
- “Adobe Photoshop CS6 Essential Tools” (ALISON)
- “Diploma in Social Media Marketing” (ALISON)
- “Become a Networking Master” (The Muse)
- “How to Start a Startup” (Stanford)
- “Academic and Business Writing” (edX)
- “Chinese Language: Learn Basic Mandarin” (edX)
- “German Course for Beginners” (Deutsch-Lernen.com)
Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, were invented in Canada in 2008 by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island. The objective of a MOOC is to engage with an unlimited number of people through the web where lectures, videos, problem sets, and discussion forums can be delivered to the widest possible audience.
Course materials are always available, on demand so that a genius could complete the course in days or weeks, and a traditional learner could take months or even years to obtain a Ph.D. Colleges and universities are often “full” with no available space for new students. This solves the problem.
Some charge fees, but places like MIT offer all of their courses online, for free, under the OCW (Open Course Work) badging. People might see it as altruistic, but in truth, it is merely practical. We haven’t enough graduates to fill all the new tech roles that are evolving. As the last of the Boomers retire, there will be a dearth of qualified employees. Online education is essential if we are going to keep expanding our knowledge and enhancing our standard of living.
Aside from the advantages mentioned previously, there are unrealized advantages as well. Take someone who is reticent, or simply shy, and suddenly they can become successful in expressing themselves because they are not overwhelmed by the presence of others. Many students have reported the ability to focus more thoroughly on the work; they indicate that the distractions of a classroom detract from their learning experience.
Everybody stands to benefit from online learning. It removes walls and barriers based on wealth, geography, gender, skin tone, religion, or ethics. When I say “everybody” that is exactly what I mean. Specifically, I leave you with this thought from Ken Goldberg:
“Our robots are signing up for online learning. After decades of attempts to program robots to perform complex tasks like flying helicopters or surgical suturing, the new approach is based on observing and recording the motions of human experts as they perform these feats.”—Prof. Ken Goldberg, UC Berkley, Roboticist
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