How To Choose A Free Online Course – Forbes Advisor

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At first glance, they seem too good to be true: free courses – often offered by top universities – that students can take at their own pace from anywhere with an internet connection? What’s the catch?

While Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may not be right for every learner, this widely accessible educational format can benefit both your career and personal learning.

Free online courses can help participants acquire new professional skills, prepare or supplement a traditional academic program, or simply explore a topic of interest. However, the format offers limited learning support, so students need plenty of self-motivation to stay on course.

What are free online courses?

Free online courses usually fall under the MOOC umbrella. Learners often access these courses through learning outcomes sites such as Coursera and edX. These platforms act as hubs for course content from partner institutions worldwide, which often include well-known universities such as Columbia University and Harvard University. In fact, Harvard — along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — founded edX in 2012.

Businesses and nonprofit organizations can also create free online course options. For example, Coursera users can take science courses at the American Museum of Natural History or study marketing analysis at Meta. Tech Educator Udacity develops course content in partnership with companies like GitHub and Microsoft.

Limited study support

These courses are, by definition, huge, often with tens of thousands of enrollers. Because of their size, MOOCs rarely allow learners to interact with or receive feedback from instructors. However, courses may include peer feedback opportunities, and many offer automatically graded assessments to help students track their progress.

Some MOOCs are self-paced, meaning students are given all the course material at the start and are free to work through it at their leisure. Other courses distribute materials incrementally, including assignments with deadlines. MOOC students learn through readings, recorded lectures, quizzes, and discussion forums.

Open registration

Another essential feature of the MOOC format is already in the name: openness. Open enrollment means that MOOCs have no formal eligibility criteria. Anyone can sign up, although some sites require learners to be of a minimum age (usually 13 to 16).

MOOCs are free, but for certain functions, such as B. Certificates of Completion, fees may apply. For example, while edX users can audit courses for free, verified track participants pay around $50 to $300 per course. Similarly, FutureLearn makes most of its content available for free, but students must pay a one-time fee or purchase a subscription to earn certificates and access course content after classes end.

How to find free online courses

Learners are responsible for screening MOOC providers to ensure they choose a reputable provider. If you sign up for a free course that doesn’t deliver what you need, you might not be losing any money – but you don’t want to waste your time or energy either.

Do your research ahead of time to choose courses that are worth the effort. Consider the following factors when looking for free online courses.

student ratings

Hearing from other learners can help you decide if a free online course is right for you. Course providers often choose which testimonials they feature on their websites, allowing peer-to-peer review sites to offer less biased perspectives. Find reviews on sites like G2 and Indeed.

teacher profiles

Class descriptions should include teacher biographies. Make sure your class’s teacher has a relevant academic or professional background in the subject. Lecturers for university-related courses are usually qualified professors from these institutions. You may want to dig deeper and look up your instructor’s resume, publications, or previous courses.

course layout

Make sure the course you are considering fits your learning style. For example, if you are primarily a visual learner, you may have trouble retaining information presented in a lecture-heavy course. Also consider your time management skills. Do you find it easy to work at your own pace, or do you prefer fixed deadlines?

Syllabus and course materials

Online courses usually publish their syllabi for potential participants to review. Review the syllabus before signing up to make sure it covers the topics you want to learn.

final documents

Find out if a potential course requires a fee for completion documents such as certificates or badges. If so, consider whether the cost is worth it for you. Also consider the potential benefits of paying the required fees for this documentation (e.g. strengthening your resume).

If you want to earn a micro-credential—a short, competency-based qualification—the provider may charge you a fee.

What are the advantages of free online courses?

Students sign up for free online courses for a variety of reasons. Some participants are career changers, others want to sharpen their skills in their current role. Other learners are preparing for a new educational endeavor, such as returning to school. Some simply pursue learning for its own sake. Every learner has their own priorities.

At its best, free online courses give students from all walks of life access to educational resources that have historically been reserved for the privileged few. While the MOOC model has its downsides — such as low graduation rates and a general lack of regulation — it still has the potential to offer great benefits to a diverse student base.

Continue your education

If you are currently studying or preparing to re-enter academia after some time in the workforce, free courses can be a valuable study aid. They can complement your formal classes, provide alternative perspectives on sensitive issues, or help you review important concepts and skills that may be rusty.

For lifelong learners, free online courses offer the opportunity to discover new interests – without having to re-enroll in school.

Warming up for a new field

Free courses can help working professionals, college graduates, and recent graduates explore new fields with minimal investment. If you’re considering a career change, look for introductory courses taught by instructors with up-to-date industry experience. If you like what you’ve learned, you can then move on to more challenging courses.

You can also find free general and specialist career development courses that cover topics like networking and interviewing.

Increase knowledge for a new project or position

Free online courses cannot replace a formal degree. However, these courses can help you build concrete skills and knowledge, establish a specialization in your field, and stay current in rapidly changing industries.

If you’re seeking a promotion, further education can enhance your resume by demonstrating desirable qualities such as work ethic, intellectual curiosity and a willingness to learn.

Prepare to ask for a raise

Taking free online courses can help you stand out as an employee who brings value to the workplace. As you negotiate a raise, you can see how your self-education demonstrates a commitment to continued professional growth and development. You can also highlight new or improved skills that can make you more effective at your job.

Grow your small business

Entrepreneurs and small business owners often wear many hats. If you can’t outsource certain critical business tasks, free online courses can help you tackle them with confidence. Courses in subjects such as marketing and accounting can provide you with the skills and knowledge to approach specialized business functions and grow your business.

Conclusion: Are free online courses worth it?

Whether an online course is worthwhile for you depends on your goals. If your goal is career advancement, be sure to research whether the course you are considering provides relevant skills for your desired position. Also, make sure the provider is reputable.

If you’re returning to school to study a new subject and want to try the subject first in a MOOC, make sure you find a course that suits your level. For example, if you plan to study web development but don’t have a technical background, consider starting with basic programming courses before delving into system design.

If your primary goal is personal enrichment, your standards may be less stringent. Still, it’s worth checking if the curriculum covers the topics that interest you most. Find out more about the experiences of previous students.

Online courses generally require self-discipline and strong time management skills. Many free courses are self-paced and offer little external feedback, requiring a high level of commitment and self-motivation. If you’re up for a challenge, you can find relevant, reputable course options to support your professional and academic goals.

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