Changing The Way We Learn Online

Bookstand with large textbookInstructables DIY laptop stand

These days we seem to have a state of mind that it is essential for us to spend twenty years, approximately a quarter, of our lives in education. It seems pretty surreal that we have to first attend seven years of Primary School, five to six years in Secondary and, in order to survive past that and not to die on our eighteen birthday, we then have to spend a further four years obtaining a degree, and if you really can’t get enough of education then don’t worry as you can do a Master’s Degree after your undergraduate study. At this rate it won’t be until we reach our thirties that we will have a stable job with an adequate income. What I’ve always not understood about education is that you spend around ten years of your life learning a subject that you may never use in the future. For example, what if it wasn’t until you turned sixteen that you realised your soul ambition was to become a driven instructor? That is a whole decade wasted where you could have lived in freedom, becoming an expert on cars (which school teaches you nada about).

I believe that there is going to be a change in the way that we learn and obtain our degrees, and thus, a new structure for the education system. There has been a rise in free online courses that you can undertake on the internet. As of yet free courses don’t allow you to obtain degrees from participating, but if you complete them you do acquire a certificate which you can use as evidence as added study to your University learning or to show you have a variety of interests. This online way of learning is beneficial for many reasons: it can be added to your CV to give a head start in a competitive career market, it gives you the opportunity to test course a job subject that you are considering switching to and it gives you the opportunity to learn something that has always interested you but there has never been a practical means of learning more about it.

The most influential of these sites is Coursera. The site began online in April 2012 and it functions by partnering with various Universities across the globe to provide courses. The site states that: “…we hope to give everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few.” This highlights the greatest success for online learning; an appealing method of education which has the power to give anyone, of any background, the opportunity to learn and change their lives. Unfortunately, with the success that these sites are making it is highly likely that they will eventually start charging for their services, although this won’t reach the same ridiculous prices that it costs to attend University. You can’t have expectations that completing these online courses will automatically allow you to make £50,000 a year at the moment. However, with tuition fees rising and limitations of places on courses, I believe education will turn to the internet, where people will be able to obtain degrees online regardless of education experience and background. This will be particularly useful if you are a part-time student and you have other things to attend to. There already is a legit University for studying online, The Open University, which offers flexible courses with a degree afterwards, but this does come at a price.

Coursera allows you to take courses from prestigious Universities, for example, Duke University, Brown University, Princeton University, Stanford University and the University of Washington who all offer courses. The fact that these well-known Universities are jumping on-board only highlights how online learning is working and it is the way forward in allowing the average person to learn. Albeit, the courses aren’t all too serious, for example, there are courses on: Song writing, Fantasy and Science Fiction and A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behaviour. However, the majority are focused on science and social based subjects.

I found out about Coursera by watching The Chase one day with one of the questions being: What course is the University of Edinburgh running online for free? The answer was Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life. I ignored the first word with the rest of the title catching my interest because I have a weird fetish for the paranormal, and a search on Google showed me that Edinburgh was involved with Coursera, introducing me to 213 courses, in which I chose 11. Courses tend to last from five weeks to fifteen weeks with an average of five hours of learning per week. You can learn languages online with such companies as Rosetta Stone, so other subjects should also be available for the public.

Critics may have their doubts about learning online; maybe it’s not as respected as learning in the classroom and there will be a lack of the student/Professor relationships, they’d say. But, online learning offers you the same equipment, teachers and work to do. Also, at University there is already a very limited relationship between students and Professors, in all honesty I would find it difficult to know which Professor I should choose for a reference, so communication via emails I believe would be substantial. The only real argument against open learning is that there would be a lack of sociability, which is already a problem in younger generations due to the digital age.

Ditching textbooks for screens may not happen for many years to come, however, at the rate we are heading with technology it seems that this will eventually be the case.

My first Coursera course, Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, begins on the 28th of January, so I will be posting my experiences and I hope you also signup (for free) and learn something new too.


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