Back to School Online

In 1961, FCC Commissioner [Newt Minow] famously described TV as a “vast wasteland.” But TV can do great things; educational programming, news coverage, and great performances do appear, just not all that often. You can draw the same parallels to the Internet. Sure, it’s mostly cat pictures, snarky comments, and posts of what your friends had for dinner. But it can also be a powerful tool, especially for education. Recently, top-name schools and other institutions have posted courses online for everything from Python to Quantum Mechanics to Dutch. The problems are finding these classes and figuring out which ones are gems and which are duds. A site called Class-Central aims to solve these problems.

The site aggregates class descriptions from a variety of sources like edX, Coursea, and more. Users can rate the classes. Many of these courses are free to take. The recent trend is to offer the content for free, but charge for people who want an assessment, such as a certificate of completion or even a full-blown degree. Even then, the cost is typically far less than traditional college costs.

There’s also news about courses. For example, a recent post highlighted that edX now offers nine online master’s degrees in conjunction with major schools. A computer science masters from the University of Texas, for example, runs about $10,000. A Georgia Tech cybersecurity masters degree costs even less. There are another seven not ready yet, including one for electrical engineering.

But the real key is you can learn what’s in these classes — for the most part — at no cost. A degree or certificate is nice, but the real value to you personally is in the knowledge. Granted, your employer might not agree and would like the degree, but they also might offer to pay for it, too.

There are plenty of courses in computer science, data science, programming, math, and engineering. There are also many courses on other sciences and topics ranging from business, nursing, writing, and more.

So while you don’t want to go cold turkey on cat pictures, the access to high-quality courses at low or no cost is amazing. Having all these classes organized in one place is pretty handy, too.

We’ve talked before about using the Internet to build your own college-level education. If you want something more practical, there’s always the Navy.

6 thoughts on “Back to School Online

  1. You need a type of comment that fades away in a few hours for these spelling and grammar notes.

    “The problem is finding these classes and figuring out which ones are gems and which are duds. A site called Class-Central aims to solve both of these problems.”

    Either “solve both of these classes”, or “problem” should be plural. And there are three problems listed.

    1. As someone who suffered through years of huge classes where the instructor didn’t even know your name, and when you *did* go to him during office hours, acted like you were wasting his time, running between classes on a big campus with 40 pounds of books because you didn’t have time to do anything else, I’d say they can’t be any worse. Having to let things go that you were really interested in because the class was moving on, or having something that you didn’t quite understand but nobody had time to help? I’ve learned more from books and videos on my own time than I ever did in school. I’ve never been good at absorbing information in lectures; I need to read it for myself a few times. I’ve watched quite a few things on Khan Academy and learned a bit there, too. But the old system of bored, jaded professors and indifferent, overworked TAs is overloaded and broken, in my opinion. I never did get the degree, but I’ve worked my way up to Engineering Technician in R&D by studying on my own. I’m 55 years old, by the way.

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