Friday, August 9, 2013

Free online education

Here are some reputable sites that offer free online courses.
Update 6/17/14 - Macroeconomics @ Coursera

I signed up for a macroeconomics course at Coursera.  The course lasted 11 weeks and required a 2-4 hour time commitment.  I actually completed the course taking all of the quizzes and the timed final exam at the end.  I also signed up for the Signature Track program which, for $49, gave me a verified certificate from Coursera and University of California, Irvine.

Having taken this course, I must say that 2-4 hours is the comfortable amount of time that I'm willing to spend on something like this.  Even with intense load at work during some of the weeks,  it's still easy to put in the necessary time to keep up.  So I plan to look for such courses.

One big negative is that the material is only provided via video and text files of the audio transcript.  What would be really useful is for the instructor to make available a pdf of the slides.  Several students asked for this in the course forums.  A student from an earlier course had taken screen shots from the videos and made them available for the first six or seven lessons.  One of the students in our class made his "notes" available which was a collection of selected screen shots and the text of the audio transcript (the audio transcripts corresponding to each video are provided as .txt files).

Overall it was an interesting experience and I plan to sign up for the companion microeconomics course at a future date.

Much of the material from the course is available at

Update 9/16/14 - Microeconomics @ Coursera

Based on the fun I had with the microeconomics course, I decided to enroll in the companion microeconomics course.   I signed up for the Signature Track program for this course as well.

Here, once again, I was lucky to get slides from someone who had taken the course at a prior date.  I actually got access to those materials during the macroeconomics course and ended up sharing it with the rest of the class.

Much of the material from the course is available at

Update 11/9/14 - Ivory Tower

I recently watched the movie Ivory Tower which is a documentary about the escalating cost of college education.  The movie paints MOOCs in a negative light -- it creates a class structure among students where those who can afford it go to a real college while those who cannot are stuck with the cheaper online option; that MOOCs don't offer the learning help and people interaction that are offered in a traditional college setting; that in experimental studies, the graduation rates with MOOCs are quite low.

It also mentioned two other sites offering MOOCs -- Udacity and edX -- which I have now added to the list above.

Other notable mentions in the movie were -- Deep Springs College, a college in California's Death Valley offering free tuition, room, and board for an associates degree in liberal arts;  and Cooper Union which transitioned from offering free education to charging tuition fees.