Post Classifieds

Online courses offer new approach to learning

By Ellie Hudd
On April 14, 2014

With finals coming up and a long year coming to a close, many Uconn students probably feel maxed out on learning right now. However, summer is just around the corner, and our well-deserved free time is imminent. And while perhaps re-engaging in formal learning wasn't what you had in mind for your time off, the breadth of learning opportunities available may just change your mind.
One of the many challenges facing the college student-especially at a large school like Uconn, where just scheduling classes every semester can seem like an insurmountable feat-is the inability to take that one course you've always wanted to take. While a student's major hopefully offers a lot of courses that excite them (if not, a change in majors may be worth thinking about), for many students, there is often that one course that eludes them throughout their college career. Whether it's a 3000-level, highly specialized class outside your major with multiple prerequisites, a second (or third, or fourth) language you don't have time to take on or an elective that conflicts with your schedule, there is often that one discipline you're passionate about that just doesn't fit into your plan of study. Another major concern for many students is their GPA-since many employers have GPA thresholds, and a lower GPA is almost unanimously looked badly upon, many students are justifiably hesitant to take a class that, while they may enjoy it, may be a struggle for them to excel in and could thus bring down their GPA.
Enter the Internet. While the sheer volume of websites in existence has led to symptoms from perpetual distraction to near addictions to acquiring new information, the Internet, when used properly, can provide the opportunity for self-motivated students to expand their knowledge base. Reading the occasional online article is all well and good for keeping up with current events or understanding different opinions on current social issues, but if you're looking to acquire a thorough, academically valid knowledge base in your area of interest, open courseware is the best route. Though these online classes do not offer college credit, many issue certificates of completion. Furthermore, their elective nature and the structure of the sites that host them allows independent, self-directed learning that students can fully engage in without consequence for their wallet or their GPA.
MIT's OpenCourseWare site was one of the first to introduce the idea of free online course material; Harvard's Open Learning Initiative was another leader in the field. These sites, however, are restricted to courses from the affiliated schools. Perhaps the most broad option is Coursera, which offers over 600 courses from many reputable institutions. From Stanford's "Cryptology I" to Emory's "The Bible's Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future," Coursera offers an online course for just about any interest.
MemRise, a slightly different kind of online learning site, offers user-generated course content. Due to the subjectivity of certain academic areas and the fact the instructors of the courses are kept relatively anonymous, due caution is needed with these kinds of sites. Furthermore, the site is geared more toward absorbing information and committing it to memory than expanding one's knowledge and thought, making it perhaps better for learning foreign vocabulary or other areas requiring rote memorization than for more esoteric subjects like philosophy or art.
Finally, one of the most intriguing endeavors in online learning is University of Reddit. This site allows Reddit users to offer short online modules about subjects in which they have an expertise. Though those who take information-based classes from unverified, anonymous Internet users should be very discerning regarding what they take at face value, many of the site's skills-based courses prove themselves valid through students' experiences succeeding at those skills.
Even a simple Google search can bring up countless opportunities in the realm of education. Even if that one UConn class just isn't in the cards, it is easy to expand your knowledge base in a semi-formal manner within any area of interest.

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