Learning for Free: A Review of Free Online Classes and Educational Resources

I love learning about new things that interest me, so the allure of free online classes was very tempting. I  wanted to test different educational apps/websites and see how they compare to other podcasts, videos, college/ high school online classes and reading I’ve experienced. Are these apps gimmicky? Do some of them really offer something insightful for the price of ACTUALLY FREE? This post is a review of several resources I have tried recently; all of which offer a substantial amount of content at no charge.

Coursera

Coursera is a website (and free application) that can be used for taking online classes from accredited
colleges and universities. You have the option to audit many of their classes, meaning you
can complete the coursework and participate in activities for free. When auditing a course, you
do not receive a certificate for completion, but you can upgrade from the start or later in the course to the
paid alternative, which qualifies for a class completion certificate.




Coursera’s classes generally have a specific start date, but enrollment is pretty flexible and courses
seem to generally be re-offered often. There are a variety of subjects to choose from, ranging from
Mathematics and Sciences to Art and Humanities.

The course I decided to audit was titled Introduction to Web Development, which was offered
by UC Davis. The course consisted primarily of video lecture, quizzes, and
activities/ practice time outside the course. I chose this course because I wanted to learn more
about what goes into a website and how to better analyze code. I used this course in conjunction with W3 Schools
(will be discussed soon). As someone who is not incredibly savvy in the topic, this course was pretty
approachable and easy to understand. The video lectures included helpful visuals and screen captures,
as well as a transcript that I could follow and take notes from.

I had completed most of week 1, which focused on the structure of a web site and the basics of web hosting. From there, the course is outlined to
cover HTML, Javascript, and CSS. Before starting each course, you can view the class description, syllabus,
reviews, and length. The length of this class is about 6 weeks for 2-3 hours per week. Because I
did not complete the course before the end of that class, it gave me the option within my account
to start where I left off in the next offering of the same class. The site has not spammed my email or penalized me
in any way for partially completing the course.

Highbrow

Highbrow is a website that offers a variety of mini classes aimed toward professionals and everyday
people. Although many of their classes are under their premium plan, they have a wide selection of
classes available for free. Some of their free offerings include Researching Your Genealogy, How
to Start a Start-Up with Zero Budget, How to Be Productive, and more. Lessons are sent to your email
to read on your own time. All of the classes that had interested me in the free section were about 5 minutes
of reading per day for 10 days. As a general rule, you cannot be enrolled in more than one class at
at time (may be different with the premium option).

The class I chose to audit was How to Travel Long Term/ Full Time. Each article was sent early
in the day to my email, so I was able to read them in the morning each day. When you first open an article,
it starts with a very small ad, and the article ends with a slightly longer one. The ads were not obnoxious
in any way and (at least in my class) were not inserted in the article itself. As I had expected, each
article was brief and covered a different aspect of long term travel, from setting up your finances
to getting rid of your belongings. The author also has a blog, which she links to at certain points for
further information. I felt the class was worth my time and opened my mind to things I hadn’t
thought about before.

Overall, the platform was easy to use and a good concept. The free classes were also easy to
locate from the very top menu. One feature I wish they had was a way to favorite classes you
want to try so you can find them easily later. These classes are also quite brief, so they feel
less like a class and more like a string of blog posts.

W3 Schools

W3 schools is a website offering tutorials and reading on the topic of coding. The website is free
and has information about such topics as HTML, CSS, and Javascript. The website is a free resource
that is easy to use and helped answer the exact questions I had. The website also has images to help
you understand the material, as well.

Ed X

Edx is very similar to Coursera in that it is a website that offers access to a variety of online classes
provided by accredited colleges and universities. Similarly, you can also choose to take classes for
free or for the certificate (paid). Classes are also offered on a similar basis, with most having
specific start times and often returning for multiple sessions. There are also self-paced classes (the
option I chose), in which the class has a much more flexible end date. The course I chose closes in the
Fall this year, even though the class is relatively brief.

The class I chose to sample was titled Understanding Classroom Interaction offered by the
University of Pennsylvania. The class consisted of 5 modules at about 2-3 hours per module (10-15 hours
total). I was also able to view the course syllabus and reviews prior to starting the course. The
class consisted of video lectures (with transcript), discussions, surveys, and quizzes (surveys were
not accessible in EdX app). I have completed the first module of the class and have enjoyed it so far. The class provides a fresh perspective on teaching and is easy to follow. Unlike Coursera they did send me frequent reminder emails to complete the class.

Open Culture

Open Culture is a website that connects you to a wide range of educational resources such as online classes,
ebooks, etextbooks, movies, and music.

The online courses came in a variety of forms from a lot of different sites. Different methods of delivery included
video lectures, powerpoint lectures, podcasts, etc. Some of the sources included iTunes, YouTube, archive.org, and mit.edu.

Most of the resources are aimed towards college/university students, with some for professional growth. The online course and ebook ranges were very extensive, but the other categories were more limited. This site proved to be a good starting point for finding interesting videos and audio lectures, and would be helpful for finding common reading material for college/ high school English classes.




Skillshare

Skillshare is comparable to Highbrow in that it offers classes for both professionals and everyday
people who want to learn something new. The difference however is the delivery of the material and
time frame. Skillshare courses consist of video presentations that conclude with a final project you
can do outside the class.

Skillshare also offers an app, but due to difficulty locating free classes,
I just used the website. The website is mobile friendly, but for desktop you do need to use Mozilla Firefox
or Google Chrome, as Internet Explorer is not compatible. One complaint I do have is the difficulty finding the
free classes once I made an account. Once I figured it out it was easy. What you would do is got to “All Courses”
and choose “see all” for either “trending” or “popular” classes. Once you reach that page, there is an option
for filters at the top, in which you can select “free classes”. From there, you can further filter by genre of
class, such as Technology or Creativity.

Skillshare has a review/ thumbs up system for class feedback, which you can view prior to starting a course. There’s
no need to enroll, and once you make an account any classes you start are saved for later. You can also favorite
classes you are interested in to visit later. From the course page you would click the first video to start the
class. The next video will autoplay and so on until the course concludes or you choose to stop. Skillshare has
community features on their site for connecting with the instructor and fellow students, and allows you
to share your final projects with your peers by uploading them to the “projects” section of the class.

I chose two classes, first being DIY Clay Sculpting: Create Your Own Mini Sandwich. This class is a polymer clay
tutorial, showing you how to make a sandwich charm. The full course length was 11 minutes and the videos were
well done and professional. The second class was Drawing with Makeup: A Beauty Illustration Tutorial. This class
shows you how to create a beauty illustration using a face template and makeup. This class was 40 minutes total
and walks you through a sample step by step. This class was a lot of fun. Overall, both classes were
professional, helpful, and easy to follow. The site in general is very comparable to good old YouTube videos.

Overall Consensus

So we’ve covered a lot…let’s summarize. To start off, both Coursera and EdX were very similar in what they
offered and how they functioned. I appreciated the self-paced class range in EdX, but also preferred getting
less email spam when using Coursera. Both sites are geared towards college/ university students, as the curriculum
is more fitting for students/majors in a subject, rather than just professionals and people who want to learn something
new. That’s not to say that all of their courses are for intermediate students. I think Coursera’s Web Development course
could be beneficial for a lot of different people. I think one of the bigger applications of these sites though is for
continuing education. For example, the Interactions in the Classroom class from EdX could be beneficial for a teacher
who wants to continue their growth for free. The final draw of these classes is the potential to add them to a resume.
I’m not sure how high the potential is for getting college credit on these classes, but if you have had experience with
this, I would be curious to hear about it in the comments below. As far as how they compare to other online courses I have
taken, they are quite short and lacking in resources. For continuing education however, I think they are a great tool.

Second type of resource we looked at today were those offering workshops for everyday people and professionals.
Those included Highbrow and Skillshare. Although I wouldn’t say they exceeded my expectations of a blog post or
YouTube video, they were definitely worth my time, interesting, and informative. Even without the premium memberships,
there were a lot of classes to explore. They are also a good starting point if you want to start a new hobby, blog, or
improve professional skills.

Last, Openculture and W3 included informational sources and reference material. W3 is a great resource for those
who want to learn about coding. Openculture also does a great job of connecting us with educational resources
for a variety of people and topics. Other informal sources of information I have also used include podcasts,
YouTube videos/films, and TED Talks.




Have you tried any of these websites/apps, and if so, what were your experiences? Do you have any other resources you enjoy for learning something new? 

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