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01 September 2011

Commercial vs Open Online Learning



Life is a never ending lesson. We keep on learning long after we have graduated school, college or university. And with the vast development of digital technology the learning process has been revolutionized to such an extent that millions of people are now able to access the world's knowledge with just several clicks and some spare time.

The most important questions
The other day I stumbled upon a news that at first sounded fascinating – The Floating University – a wonderful concept for a virtual educational facility, offering the general public a touch to the greatest living University scholars, lecturers and professors. Starting this autumn anyone (with a credit card) can enroll in The Floating University and watch videos of lectures together with the students in Harvard, Yale and Bard.

I read on, to understand that the first course offered at the prise of $495 by The Floating University - Great Big Ideas: An Entire Undergraduate Education While Standing on One Foot - is comprised of 12 lectures covering the most important questions of Psychology, Economics, Biomedical Research, Linguistics, History, Political Philosophy, Globalization, Investing and more.

As Peter Hopkins, co-founder of The Floating University says:
We presented each lecturer with a challenge. 'Tell us everything a non-professional needs to know about your subject in less than 60 minutes.' As a result, our video lectures are highly focused, and rich in content, animation and graphics that make knowledge come alive. It is like reading a 600-page book in one hour.

Reading a 600-page book in an hour
Sounds good, right? Reading a 600-page book in one hour. Now think again. How effectively can a 60 minutes lecture (though in the syllabus it says 40-50 minutes) teach you everything there is to know on a subject like Linguistics, Economics, or Art and substitute a semester or a year of studying? I am left with a bitter taste in the mouth saying this, but sorry professors, I've been to University. 

Illustration: mushon
High quality knowledge for free
The Floating University's promises make me feel highly skeptical towards their true intentions not only because I feel that luring people into learning with the reassurance for no homeworks or tests but because for quite some time now high level of virtual education has been offered FOR FREE on the Internet by well-established legendary Universities like Yale, MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, or Stanford University.

Just take MIT's online syllabus for example – hours and hours of video lectures on Civil and Environmental Engineering, Health Sciences and Technology, Comparative Media Sciences you can watch anytime, anywhere, without them becoming unavailable 6 months later (as is the case with The Floating University). Not only do the MIT professors offer as many as 2,000 courses, but there are also available online textbooks, lecture notes, assignments, etc. 

Illustration: mushon
Untraditional tuition for free
Or, if you are up to some untraditional tuition, check out Khan Academy on YouTube or KhanAcademy. Salman Khan and his team have uploaded over 2,500 educational videos and 72,618,302 lessons (and counting) covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history. They will help you learn whatever you want, whenever you want, at your own pace FOR FREE.

You can find thousands of free video lectures by the most prominent professors of our time here: 
MIT
Yale 
Or, for a list of the top 10 Universities with free courses online click here.

Let's admit it, watching to University lectures from the comfort of your home, or actually anywhere in the world you feel comfortable, is something we haven't even dreamed about 20 years ago. It opens so many possibilities for self-development that one can rightfully wonder how people can even think of spending countless hours gossiping on Facebook.

Online learning is also environmentally responsible. The flexibility of following lectures at your own speed from home actually helps the environment and makes every e-learner a bit greener! You neither drive to sit the lectures, nor you take any public transport, so your CO2 emissions are practically zero.

But having the key to open the doors to high quality university education for free or even without registration is indeed revolutionary.

So now that you know, would you choose to spend $495 for a 12 lecture crash course in 21st century essential knowledge read by professors from around the world? Or would you go with the thousands of free lectures by the professors of MIT, Stanford University, or Yale? Tell us in the comments.

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