Move beyond the traditional classrooms to the world of online courses to gain specialized skills.
In this competitive world we are under constant pressure to improve our skills or to learn new skills to perform better in the current role and also to prepare for the next role. Most of the institutes that we attend for graduate and postgraduate courses give us the basic education and concepts, but do not equip us with specialized skills. In order to gain the specialized skills we need to enroll ourselves for specific courses.
But how many of us really have the time and money to attend such courses as regular students? Even if we do have them, it might not be feasible to attend such courses if they are offered by institutions in cities or countries that are distant from our residence.
Is there a possibility to still attend our courses of interest from reputed and premier institutes, without relocating ourselves or burning a hole in our pocket? The answer is ‘Yes’. We can enroll for these coveted courses by opting for ‘online courses’.
What are Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms?
Leading educationists from premier global educational institutions like MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and IITs are offering courses online over what are called MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) platforms. Some of the popular MOOC platforms are Coursera, edX, Udacity, NPTEL and MIT OCW.
The courses available on these platforms offer comprehensive resources online such as lecture videos, reading material, assignments, online sessions, grading systems and tests. These platforms also support discussion forum where learners can interact with each other and the faculty.
Learners can use these courses for self learning or they can pursue a certificate. These certifications add value to your resume. Studies have also shown that higher education students enrolled in online learning courses perform just as well as those enrolled in on-campus courses and programs.
Benefits of Online Courses
Online courses offer many benefits. Some of the key benefits are listed below.
- You can access the lectures of the premier universities either free of cost or at nominal price.
- You get access to classes not available locally, and you can attend them from the comfort of your home or workplace.
- Some of these could be the institutes that you always longed to attend, but could not attend for one or the other reason.
- Such courses can be taken at your own pace or in a time bound manner.
- You can choose to attend and study specific subjects or topics of interest to you, rather than going through a complete integrated program or course.
- For many courses, discussion forums are also available where you can discuss the topic of study and find solutions to problems with fellow coursemates and faculty.
Overview of popular MOOCs
Let us look at some of the popular platforms for online learning.
edX is an MOOC platform founded by MIT and Harvard. It is a not for profit organization.
It offers certification courses by many premier Universities, and also by other leading organizations like Microsoft and W3C consortium. Courses from a wide variety of streams including Life Sciences, Architecture, Law, Philosophy, Basic Sciences, Language, Literature, Music, Economics, Computer Science and Electronics are available on this platform.
The courses are categorized as introductory, intermediate and advanced.
Most courses that lead to certificates are time bound or schedule based, that is they have a start and end date. You can view lecture videos and other course material at your convenience. However, these course would typically have assignments and tests that are to be submitted by due dates. These courses would have very active forums where you can discuss your problems and doubts with other students enrolled in the course or instructors.
The certification has two versions- Honor Code and Verified.The Honor Code certification is free and does not verify that you have actually completed the course successfully, it simply goes by your word regarding. The verified certificate costs a minimum of $50 and verifies your identity every time you log in using your webcam and a government issued photo id. Some verified courses also have proctored exams.
The courses also get archived and you can view them later. Some of the course features like ‘Auto Grader’ and forums may not be available if the certification course is not running.There can be multiple runs of a certification course in a year.
There are also course that are relatively passive, and may not have a start and end date. You can do these courses at your own pace, and quite often will not lead to certification.
Those of you who are interested in courses related to computer science and software engineering you will find excellent courses related to cloud computing, big data, android, machine learning and python.
Coursera is a for profit organization that was founded by two Stanford professors- Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng. It was initially funded by two venture capital funds, KPCB and NEA Partners.
Coursera features are very similar to edX. It has the biggest course catalog amongst all MOOCs, and has very diverse partners.
It is a joint initiative by the Indian Institute of Technologies and the Indian Institute of Science. It offers technological/engineering courses that are usually offered by IITs or other Engineering colleges at the undergraduate level. Many colleges are connected to NPTEL through NPTEL study centers. The statistics of previous run of courses can be seen on http://nptel.ac.in/noc/NocStatisticspage.php
The courses provide video lectures, which are well explained and self contained. For some courses transcripts of video lectures and/or assignments are available. The assignments may or may not have solutions. Assignments are fairly challenging.
Certification is available for certain courses, which are generally scheduled courses. Assignments and exams are time bound. Certification exam costs maximum of Rs 1500, and is proctored. Percentage is shown on the certificate. The faculty is active on the discussion forum.
You can see https://onlinecourses.nptel.ac.in/explorer to see upcoming scheduled courses.
How to get most out of Online Courses
As discussed before MOOC courses offer several benefits, but you need to follow a disciplined approach to make the best use of these courses.
- Read the books recommended for the course, besides watching the video lectures.
- Solve the assignments regularly. Try to solve them when they are released. It will not be possible to solve them if you try to solve them just before the deadline.
- Use discussion forums regularly. They contain valuable information regarding the course, like resources for reference and practice. Also they can be used to clear course related doubts.
- Do not try to do too many courses at the same time. These courses require time and dedication. It may not be possible to devote time to multiple courses while studying for your regular college courses.
- If you have done a course in your college and scored well then do not focus your attention on similar courses available online. Instead focus on courses related to the latest hot skills like big data, machine learning, cloud computing or whatever is relevant in your context.
- A group may be formed by your fellow students taking the same online course. Joining the group can bring extra benefits on completing the course like getting endorsements on LinkedIn, sharing latest updates related to the topics you have studied in the course, mentoring etc.