Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Learning Beyond The Classroom Walls

When I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology, I started out like many students do. I sat down at my laptop, went to Google and started searching. Eventually I landed on a program at an in-state university that was one of the first of its kind. Everything was virtual. Not once in the 18 months I was in the program would I set foot on campus. I completed everything from the comfort of my home or the road.

Just a few years ago, programs like the one I completed were very few and far between. There have been correspondence courses for a number of years but these normally led to certificates and rarely led to actual degrees. Today, students of all ages have virtually an unlimited number of options to not only obtain degrees in any number of subjects, but to learn from some of the leading thinkers and doers around.

Take online degrees like the one I got. More and more traditional colleges and universities are providing these as an option for both traditional and nontraditional, working students. Many students can now obtain full degrees, from bachelor’s to PhD, all from a laptop in their living room, rather than a stuffy classroom in a building named for someone few remember. This idea of anytime learning extends far beyond K-12 and has far-reaching effects in higher education as well.

Traditional colleges and universities are also facing a new generation of learning options through MOOCs. Massively Open Online Courses are just that - virtual classes on many topics where you might be in a class with your neighbor or someone from Sub-Saharan Africa. These courses touch all continents, and in many cases are taught by the same professors and educators who are teaching them in prestigious colleges and universities around the world. And, in the case of courses offered by colleges and universities, they are free to take. Who wouldn’t want to learn about Economics or Physics from leaders in the field, for free?

Where can you discover some of these innovative courses?

Lifehacker U-This is the first site I visit when I want to see what’s new in the world of virtual learning. The folks over at Lifehacker put together some pretty comprehensive lists of free courses on a wide variety of topics, including Computer Science, Astrophysics, Dinosaur Paleobiology or The Importance of Play In Everyday Life. There’s course for almost anyone!

Keep in mind there are a few things to consider before enrolling in online courses, so do your homework. You might want to consider what the course outcome will be, if the courses lead to degree or certification, or if there is additional course work you’ll need that isn’t offered online.

It’s not easy to convert a face-to-face course into a virtual experience. So make sure you also research whether the professors and educators leading the course are certified to teach online. It doesn't hurt to ask if you can sample the course to ensure it will meet your needs, too.

Online and virtual courses are certainly a convenient way to engage in learning, whether it’s to further your education or just to learn something new. Just be sure to find the one that’s right for your needs.

Happy learning!

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.
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