Graduation is the most important part of any undergraduate’s academic career. I expect that in a couple of years, I’ll be standing outside my university wearing an absurd hat, looking like a slightly more rotund teacher from the Bash Street Kids, clutching a degree and ready to take big confident steps into the real world. Oh, and I would have also accumulated an eye-watering £50,000 worth of debt for the privilege. Ouch.
Yep, going for a university education is an expensive proposition. There’s no doubting that. In the US, student loan debt recently topped $1,000,000,000 – A number that is so comically large you could be forgiven for holding your pinkie finger to the corner of your lips whilst saying it, a la Dr Evil.
Even in the UK, higher education is absurdly costly. Since 2012, new students face fees of £9000 per year. That’s an awful lot of money, especially when you consider that most British degrees last for around four years and that only ten years ago, tuition fees were limited to £1000 a year. A tiny fraction of what they are now.
For most people, this is totally worth it. The advantages that having a degree to your name totally outweigh the crushing indebtedness that usually accompanies it. That’s not to say that there aren’t any compelling alternatives online.
But do they match up to the real McCoy? Can you get a college-quality education without stepping into a classroom and forking over great wads of cash? Here are four online courses that are giving traditional bricks and mortar institutions a run for their money.
Harvard University is an institution that oozes excellence. It is the place where Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook and where Bill Gates dropped out before founding Microsoft. To be a Harvard graduate is to be marked for life as a smart cookie indeed. And you – yes you – can study at Harvard.
Introduction to Computer Science is a course that looks very familiar to most Computer Science undergraduates. Besides teaching C and PHP – two massively popular and useful programming languages – there is also a massive emphasis on learning how to think algorithmically. That is, how to break an action into small, logical steps and decisions.
This course is delivered by EdX and takes some serious time commitment. It consists of eight programming assignments, each taking up to 20 hours to complete. As a result, you can be assured that it isn’t half-baked and incomplete. Despite its lofty origins, it is free to enroll and all who complete it will gain a certificate of accomplishment.
Fine Art 101 on The University Of Reddit [No Longer Available]
Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of an earlier vacation to Rome was wandering around the Vatican City. In just a single square mile, you can find one of the largest collections of artwork in the world, including some fascinating Renaissance pieces.
I know that the Sistine Chapel is captivatingly beautiful. I can admire Michelangelo’s frescos. However, understanding why these pieces of art are beautiful and understanding the historical context behind them is something entirely different.
Thankfully, London based artisttook it upon herself to create a complete, comprehensive guide to all things fine art. She aims to teach students about the history and theory behind some of the greatest pieces of artwork and in a manner which is accessible, captivating, and lacks any pretense.
This course is free and you can sign up on The University Of Reddit [No Longer Available]. Lectures are delivered by video on Vokle, with the slides available to download.
Lessons start in the same way. Usually with some form of whimsical song. Lessons are shot in front of a green screen, and include examples of code and more special effects than a Michael Bay movie. Despite only being about six minutes long, they pack in a lot of content and present it in a really easy to understand manner.
Everything you learn in the videos is later solidified and consolidated with interactive exercises where you write code in the browser. This circumvents one of the biggest barriers to learning to code, which is setting up a development environment. You get instant feedback whenever you complete an assignment, and for each correct solution you provide, you are given points.
This doesn’t come cheap, however. The free videos offered by CodeSchool are limited. If you want to follow a course to completion, you’re going to have to fork out around $25 per month. It’s not all bad though. For each completed course, you get $5 off your next month, and you can download all videos in DRM free, iPhone friendly MOV format.
Jurassic Park is one of my favorite films of all time. How much of it is accurate, though? I’ve always been curious. Who better to ask than Philip John Curie? He is widely regarded to be one of the best paleontologists in the business. He even has a dinosaur museum named after him. There’s no greater teacher when it comes to dinosaurs, and you can learn from him on “Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology” on Coursera.
Launched in conjunction with the University of Alberta in Canada and with the assistance of graduate student Betsy Kruk, it promises to teach the student about how dinosaurs lived, from their eating habits to their mating habits, up to that unfortunate incident involving a meteorite.
Dino 101 is free and upon completion you can earn credit at the University of Alberta. Register here and start the course in September.
Udemy. Coursera. EdX. Codeschool. Despite the onslaught of online learning platforms, there’s still a place for the humble university. Perhaps the biggest barrier to the ongoing success of online learning is the whilst universities are accredited, few online learning courses are. There’s not the same level of assurance that an online course will help your career prospects in the same way a degree will. However, universities have to catch up to these online platforms in terms of cost and the range of subjects on offer.
Have you taken an online course? Have you found an online course that helped your career progression, or clinch your dream job? Let me know in the comments.