Having just finished grad school, I am in the habit of studying at the feet of masters, and learning amazing new things. So I am thrilled to discover a surge in new elearning platforms whose aims are to expose me to new knowledge.
Coursera.org is a platform offering over 100 courses from major universities on a wide range of topics. With Coursera, you register on the site, then you can sign up for any courses — most of which look to be five to eight weeks long, and are scheduled through mid-2013.
For example, I signed up for a stats course that’s to begin in September.
What’s refreshingly unique about Coursera is that you actually get readings and homework — in addition to watching lectures by your professor.
Some courses even send you a certificate of completion at the end.
Many universities have uploaded audio and video recordings of course lectures on a huge variety of topics, which you can download or stream from the Apple iTunes Store (navigate to iTunes U inside the “store”). Some of these courses offer supplemental course materials, and some don’t. No homework is involved, and no one but you will know if you completed a course.
One advantage of iTunes U courses is that non-academic departments on a campus — for example a career services office — can share non-credit workshop recordings and lectures through the platform. It’s not just for-credit coursework that’s offered.
Another thing I like about iTunes U is that you sometimes get to hear comments and responses from students (especially if the professor asks a lot of questions).
A final (maybe obvious) benefit of iTunes U is that the lectures are easy to listen to on the go, on your iPad or iPod for example.
Khan Academy features short beginning and refresher video lectures on a range of academic topics. Through the Khan Academy app, the lectures are easy to access for mobile users.
TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, is a collection of video-recorded multimedia presentations from all over the world, often featuring people on the cutting edge of their field.
I’ve watched TED (and TEDx, which are local, independently-organized TED events) presentations on YouTube, NetFlix, and the TED iPad app on subjects as varied as Khan Academy (see above) to robotics to personal branding.
One giant advantage of TED lectures is that they’ve been vetted — it’s not like attending conference lectures, where any given presenter might be (surprise!) boring. Most TED presenters offer something redeeming — humor, gripping content, quick pace.
A related benefit of watching TED at home is that you can turn a video off if you find that it’s not your cup of tea after watching a bit of it.
Learnist is a new social learning platform, still in beta (as of this writing). (Email me at amypotthast[at]gmail.com for an invitation to join, or request an invitation from the Learni.st site.)
Similar to pinning images to a board on Pinterest, Learnist allows you to browse curated, multimedia educational content on boards that other people have created. You can also create your own board and curate content (video, images, text) on topics you know about.
Like many social apps, you can login to Learnist using Facebook, and Learnist updates your Facebook timeline (unless you tell the app not to) with your Learnist activity, so your friends see what you’re learning about.
Of course if you’re confused about how to use Learnist, you can always check out the learning board on Learnist called How to Use Learnist.
Caveats to all these platforms
Before you drop out of your brick & mortar school (the kind that charges tuition), let me warn you that most of these free elearning opportunities operate under the notion that listening, watching and/or reading equals learning, and they therefore rely heavily on lecture with some slideshow support.
For me, some benefit of a lecture are that the speaker — an expert — has made decisions about what to include and what to leave out; and the speaker can communicate facts and anecdotes efficiently.
Some downsides of the lecture are that it does not typically allow for skills practice, or ongoing learner assessment (because of the lack of interaction between lecturer and listener), and they can be boring.
To get the most out of any lecture, find ways to re-expose yourself to the content in the weeks and months following it:
- take notes and be sure to review them later (a few days, a week, a month, etc.)
- review the video/audio again after a few days or a week
- reflect on what you learned in a blog post or journal entry
- tell a friend what you learned.
Have you used any of the platforms mentioned here? Do you have others that you rely on? What’s been your experience with these online nonformal learning pursuits?