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Back to School: Opportunities for Online Education

Back to School: Opportunities for Online Education
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The number of colleges offering distance learning programs continues to grow to meet the needs of adults who want to advance their careers but at the same time have to balance work and home responsibilities. The prevalence of learning opportunities for non-degree seeking adults has also grown. If you have a passion for lifelong learning, online education could be just the thing you’re looking for. Anyone with an internet connection can take advantage of online educational opportunities. Students can enroll in classes for fun, personal enrichment, to advance their career or start a business. If you’re thinking of taking classes online, read on for an overview of some of the more popular education platforms.


Coursera offers classes from over 120 top universities and organizations. Partner schools include Penn State, Princeton, California Institute of the Arts and Stanford. Students learn via video lectures, interactive quizzes and peer-graded assessments. Participants can also connect with their instructor and fellow students in the class discussion forums. It’s free to take classes but you do have the option of paying a fee (about $50) to get a certificate upon completion.

Signing up is easy. You can use your Facebook log-in or simply provide your name and email address to create an account and user profile. From there, simply search for classes. You have the option of browsing the catalogue by discipline or using the search box to find subjects of interest.

Writer's profile on Coursera

Writer’s profile on Coursera

You can immediately enroll in the next class or sign up for “future sessions” and get an alert when a new session starts. If the class is already in progress, you can still enroll. Because the classes are self-paced, you simply start reviewing the weeks you’ve missed and get your assignments in by the suggested due date.

Most courses have an introductory video about the class and the professor. This will help you decide if you really want to move forward. The majority of the classes are free but there is a charge for some specialized courses. Sample classes include, Chinese for Beginners, Sharpened Vision: A Poetry Workshop (which I am currently finishing up) and an Introduction to Guitar. Other courses include a study of the life of Andy Warhol. Finance, accounting, marketing, public relations , social media, and public speaking courses are other offerings.

Open Yale Courses

By a show of hands, how many of you have taken classes at Yale University ? I have and so can you. Unlike Coursera, Yale does not offer nearly as many classes. As of this writing you can select from nearly fifty classes across a range of subjects. The courses are actually credit courses taught at the university and filmed for distribution through the program. It’s like auditing a class for free. The video lectures are accompanied by a transcript, which is great in case you get lost. In addition, you’ll have access to various course materials. An audio-only options is also available for some courses.

Langdon Hammer, Prof. of English Yale University

Langdon Hammer, Prof. of English Yale University

What’s more, you don’t even have to register for the class. You just click on the course you’re interested in and start learning. On the negative side, you may have to purchase books for the class. So make sure you check first. Depending on the class, you may be able to get a used book cheap through Several years ago, I took a modern poetry class and I purchased the textbook online. I didn’t mind the cost (about fifty bucks) because I knew I would use the book again. Additional handouts and course material is usually available for download. Some classes include the exam or other assignments. You can complete the assignments without worrying about getting a grade. In addition to the modern poetry class, there are offerings in physics, astronomy, music and more.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) OpenCourseWare

This popular online destination offers over 2200 courses, from a top-tier university. Like Yale, there’s no registration. You simply find the course you want to take and you’re good to go. There’s no interaction with faculty or other learners, which is something that Coursera has over both Yale and MIT. However, you can click over to OpenStudy to see if other learners are taking the class you’re enrolled in and if so, you can interact through this medium. Each course provides different types of instructional material such as lecture notes, a reading list and learning activities. One drawback is some of the courses don’t offer a video component. If you’re comfortable learning by reading the notes, you’ll do fine. It’s easy to search to see which courses offer video or audio options.

With such a large bank of courses, you’ll be sure to find a class or two that peaks your interest. You may have to purchase a book for the class, but most provide material for your use. For example, a reading assignment might have a link to a PDF version of the pages you need to read, instead of having to purchase the entire book. Many classes also offer solutions to learning activities. Examples of classes offered include, American History to 1865, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, Women’s Novels: A Weekly Book Club, and Feminist Thought. Of course this is MIT, so there’s lots of engineering, math and science classes.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

The MOOCs list does not offer courses, instead it is an aggregator of available online class from around the world. When you find a course you’re interested in, the link will take you directly to the provider’s website. You can find a wide range of subjects you’re interested in, from foreign language to analytical chemistry.

You don’t have to register on MOOCs but if you want to keep a running tab of courses that you want to take in the future, without having to bookmark each institution or provider’s site, it might be a good idea to set up an account. You can use different criteria to search for courses. For example, if you’re interested in learning Spanish, simply type it in the search box to see who’s offering classes. You can also search by provider, university, country and several other options.

Learning Advisor

Learning Advisor is a joint venture between AARP and Kaplan and is part of AARP’s Life Reimagined Initiative. Like the MOOCs list, the site puts visitors in touch with a variety of learning opportunities. There’s a big emphasis on certificate and degree programs that are available to advance your current position, or start a new career or business. If you’re thinking of pursuing a degree, there’s also a section on scholarships

Many of the degree programs are Master’s level but there are undergraduate courses. Degree programs include nursing, education, information technology and legal studies. Certificate programs include real estate, financial education and customer service. You can search by provider, subject, university and by ratings/reviews from others who have taken the class. You don’t have to create an account, simply click on the link and you will be taken to the provider’s website. However, if you’re browsing, you may want to go ahead and sign up so that you can save courses you’re interested in for later.

If you’ve made the decision to pursue a degree program or earn a certificate but you need a little moolah, be sure to check out these resources to help you finance your education.

Federal Student Aid

Financial Aid for Older and Nontraditional Students

Jeannette Rankin Foundation Scholarship Fund

Non Traditional Student Scholarships
























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