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Distance learning is not a new concept and websites that facilitate learning have been around for quite a while as well. However, with the financial crisis, there has been a growing demand for easily accessible and useable knowledge available for everybody without the shockingly increasing tuition fees - free online courses were designed to answer these demands. Since their recent kick off, they have experienced an unexpected boom and more and more universities are planning to be part of it: after the success of Yale and the University of Toronto, Harvard has decided to join the initiative as well.
If you want to be part of the experience, all you have to do is register online, choose a course from the hundreds on offer and wait for the first day of school. Once the course starts, lectures will be available to watch for about a week from the date they were uploaded – you can choose when to watch them or when to take a break and you can even rewind certain parts or watch lectures again. After you watch the videos, there is the opportunity to send a message to the tutor with your questions and the online forum is always there to clarify uncertainties and to further engage in the topics with your course mates.
However, the fact that it is an online course does not mean that there is no feedback involved. Participants are graded according to your participation in the online discussions, their contributions in the forum, the essays they hand in and more often than not, you have to pass one or two exams as part of the course. And best of all, if you get a good enough grade for all the activities, you will be awarded a certificate to attest that you have successfully completed the course. Unfortunately, the certificate does not come with any credits, nor do the courses replace a real university degree, but they definitely look good on your CV and are a fun way to expand your knowledge of a given subject or to test if you would really like to study a certain science in more depth.
And if you just cannot wait to plunge into this new challenge, here is a selection of the best websites for you where you can pick your favourite courses from the hundreds on offer:
www.coursera.com: Probably the biggest and most popular provider of free online courses at the moment with 390 courses offered in 20 categories created by 62 universities from 16 countries. Courses starting soon include: Online Games, Sustainability and Food Systems, The Law of the European Union and even an Introduction to Public Speaking! Best of all, there are more and more courses available in languages other than English!
www.udacity.com: With its five categories of Business, Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics and Psychology, Udacity might prove to be the most appealing for the enthusiasts of Sciences. With all courses labelled as beginners’, intermediate or advanced, it is guaranteed that everybody will find the level they are looking for. Even though all learning takes place online, Udacity prides itself in being highly interactive, placing their primary focus on project-based exercises.
www.myopencourses.com: The website’s motto “Learning, turbocharged” perfectly summarizes My Open Courses’s philosophy: offering useable knowledge in just a few months’ with lots of added extras! With such diverse subject as India's Ayurvedic Inheritance and Understanding Creativity, there is something here for everyone! Plus, the website is available as an Android App as well, which means that you can ‘go to university’ while sitting at the hairdressers’ or waiting for the bus.