There are a variety of different online courses available to learners at any age. For years now, institutions, teachers, and other sources have been pushing an education that’s outside the classroom, with an emphasis on free or lower-cost classes, often in the form of a MOOC (massive open online courses). Online learning has become a staple of the education industry because it offers an incredible amount of flexibility for learners. It can become a staple for you, too. If you have any learning goals, whether it’s to get ahead in your current job, to recareer entirely, or to pad your résumé for a better position, online courses are a good choice!
[Get started with the basics: 13 broad-subject free courses.]
If you decide a MOOC is right for you, here’s how you can best take advantage of your free online educational opportunity:
1. Clarify your motivation.
While a MOOC can’t replace a Harvard degree, it can be a cost effective way to update your skills and add certificates of completion to your resume. Perhaps you’re looking to explore a new field or decide on a college major, but you would like to try a class first. Maybe you’ve always wanted to understand poetry and now finally have some time to dedicate to your studies. You may be a non-tech person, and learning computer programming might make you eligible for promotion. Understanding your motivation will help keep you on track.
2. Research your options.
As the number of online course providers and classes rapidly increase, students need a way to sift through the hundreds, even thousands, of opportunities available. New sources like LearningAdvisor, Class Central, CourseTalk , Knollop, and CourseBuffet are attempting to streamline the information and allow students to rate classes after completion. Consider previewing your class materials before you enroll to make sure you find the materials interesting and at your level.
3. Decide how much time you have to spend on your online classes.
Experimental Genome Science might require more of a time commitment than Intro to Philosophy. Decide how many weeks you can commit to a course, and how many hours per week can you spend on assignments, lectures, readings, and projects before you enroll in a class.
4. Schedule your coursework.
Most online courses are flexible; you can watch videos on demand and fit readings and assignments into your schedule after work, between traditional classes, or even while waiting in line for groceries. But getting the most from a course requires time and discipline. Some courses require set times for group discussions, online chats, or even real life gatherings. Make sure they fit into your life or you risk falling behind.
5. Take advantage of college credits and certifications.
Opportunities are expanding for students to earn “badges” or certificates of completion: proof of skills learned which may bolster a résumé. Though online learning is still in its infancy, professors are experimenting with ways to accurately assess a student’s work so they may assign transferable credit. Some traditional universities, like Kaplan University, may allow students to take proctored equivalency exams to qualify for college credits.
[A great way to start is by taking a free course where you can document your experiences for college credit.]
6. Do your homework.
Most courses require more than just remote viewing. To earn certificates, students may have to write papers, design computer programs, or turn in problem sets. Quizzes and final exams may be graded by computers or by peers. To get the most from a class you must complete the work.
7. Participate in class.
You will gain more from your experience if you don’t just lurk. Participate in the peer-review process. Ask questions on the discussion boards or via video chat, meet classmates in Google hangouts, join the Facebook group. Students in larger cities may arrange study groups at local coffee shops or create actual Meetup groups to facilitate discussions and interactions like those available in the traditional classroom.
You are connected with thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe interested in the same topic as you. Build relationships with students you meet through class participation. Find a mentor. Share feedback and ideas with others in the industry. You may find you’ve earned not only knowledge, but employment opportunities.
9. Try something new.
You have free Ivy League classes at your fingertips. Explore. Have you always loved Greek mythology, wondered what it takes to launch a successful startup company, or wanted to understand current health care policies? It’s all available to you with only an investment of time.
10. Use the course to build your résumé or portfolio.
Even if you don’t receive college credit for an open course, you still gain knowledge and skills which can enhance your job search. List completed courses under the additional training section on your résumé. Computer programs, business plans, graphic designs, or writing samples can add to your portfolio and boost your marketability.
[Did you know MOOC Certificates Can Satisfy Employer Needs?]
Kerry Ann Morgan is a lover words, wine, and wit. When she’s not hacking away at yet another draft of her novel, freelance writing and editing for various websites, or posting on her blog Vinobaby’s Voice, she can often be found with a book in her hand, under a tree, dreaming.