Colleges Offer Free Online Courses

free online coursesTrinity College Dublin and many other top universities around the world are teaming up to offer free online courses. It is part of a growing trend towards large scale online education through massive open online courses, known as MOOCs. These courses are aimed at interactive participation and access via the internet at no cost to the student.

MOOCs originally started around 2008 in various elite colleges in America and now is the first UK multi-institutional provider to offer MOOC courses. FutureLearn has many partnerships with colleges around the UK and now Trinity College Dublin and Australia’s largest university, Monash, have become the first two international collaborations. The British Library and the British Museum along with many more institutions have agreed to collaborate and share expertise in the development of the courses and the first courses are set to begin later this year.

Of course, online education is nothing new, there are thousands of online courses available nowadays, but MOOCs are different in that they are free, open to anyone and there is no limit on places; the largest MOOC to date had 300, 000 participants. MOOCs are being described by many as the biggest development in education for decades; making higher education accessible to anyone, anywhere. They are taught by top academics from some of the best colleges in the world and so students get the benefit of learning from some of the world’s best educators. They can also be used for professional development and can also allow students to explore possible career changes and personal interests.

The global publicity from the courses is beneficial for the colleges too; allowing them to develop their international reputation at a time where there is a constant battle between colleges for students, staff and funding. The timing for Trinity College couldn’t be better as the Obamas only recently visited the college’s Old library during their high profile trip to Ireland.

Typically MOOCs are offered through recorded lectures and there is contact between the students and teachers by email. Students taking the courses generally have access to readings, activities, discussion boards and quizzes and MOOCs are usually assessed by machine graded multiple choice questions and by peer-reviewed written assignments. These courses are not yet accredited by the colleges but some MOOCs are already offering certificates to those who complete their courses and many educational experts feel that it will only be a matter of time before colleges and employers start to take MOOCs more seriously.

While there is great excitement about this new era of internet based higher education, many academics are also sceptical about it. There is a fear that traditional face-to-face teaching will be lost and that ultimately MOOCs could destroy the college experience; replacing the need for professors and lowering the standard of education. It is also possible that MOOCs may not be free in the future as currently they are being funded by the participating colleges and private businesses and as the interest and popularity in MOOCs grows, they may have no choice but to charge learners for their experience.

Whatever your opinion on MOOCs is, there is no denying that internet based learning is rapidly growing in popularity. The convenience and flexibility of doing a course from the comfort of your own home is especially appealing to those who are already working and want to develop their job skills or transition into a new career. It is also great for people who may not live close to colleges and universities as the choice of online courses is limitless and far less restrictive. Working from home also means there is no transportation or accommodation costs either. Online courses can also encourage student participation more than a regular class as often a student’s attendance is based on their participation in online discussions. Online material can also be accessed all day, everyday and so students can easily review lectures and read related material at a time that suits them.

More and more colleges and universities are offering online courses and now with the emergence of MOOCs there is a greater selection than ever before of courses and options for people to study what they feel is best in helping them achieve their academic and personal goals.

Fiona McBennett

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