Wednesday, February 5, 2014

MOOC!! (not moo cow)

Photo by A. J. Cann

What do Jose Saramago,   Abraham Lincoln and Julian Assange all have in common?  They are all autodidacts – people who for one reason or another did not have much formal education and so are self taught. Other famous autodidacts include Frank Zappa and Ray Bradbury.

People may choose or be forced to eschew formal learning for many reasons.  They may be too poor,  too far away, or simply opposed to a formal educational system.   In times past, the public library was the best friend of the autodidact – Bradbury famously said “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities.”

Libraries are still a stalwart friend to the autodidact, still providing free access to all of the volumes collected on library shelves, but also in terms of access to free Internet enabled public computers and free wireless access.

Photo by mathplourde
That digital free access opens the door to hundreds of free or low cost learning opportunities – referred to as MOOCs, for Massive Open Online Courses.  A MOOC is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web.

MCPL has recently begun to provide access to a service called “Learn4Life”, which is a collection of over 300 Instructor-Led Courses focused on professional development and personal enrichment.  The courses run for six weeks, with lessons available each week.  The courses also offer an interactive learning environment, where students can chat with the instructor and classmates using an online bulletin board.

I am currently taking an intro class on Microsoft Outlook 2010, as Montgomery County Government recently upgraded to Office 2010.  I can say that I’ve learned useful tips for working with Outlook, and I will probably complete the full suite of classes related to Outlook.  There are many, many different types of classes ranging from things like digital photography to resume writing to writing effective grant proposals.

If you are interested finding out more about free online courses, some of which are offered by top universities like Harvard and Yale,  you can find a listing of various websites that offer MOOCs on the library system's Education Libguide.   Here are descriptions of just a few of the listings -

Coursera -  Partners with top universities, including Princeton, Stanford, Penn, Duke, and UVA,  to offer free courses online.  Among the current offerings, (over 500), is an “Introduction to Chemistry”  course from Duke University, and a very interesting offering called “Moralities of Everyday Life” from Yale.

EDex - A not-for-profit online learning platform that features teaching designed specifically for the web. Participating universities include Harvard and MIT.  The site offers self-paced learning, online discussion groups, wiki-based collaborative learning, assessment of learning as a student progresses through a course, and online laboratories. 

iTunes U – Of course, Apple is a player in the MOOC world.  With iTunes U, university, college, and K-12 school educators design and distribute complete courses featuring audio, video, books, and other content. Students and lifelong learners can experience those courses for free through an app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.

Khan Academy – You have probably heard of this site, which offers over 2600 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and includes practice exercises.  Their motto is “A free world-class education, for anyone, anywhere.”

Goodwill Community Foundation  -  Provides free, quality, innovative online learning opportunities to anyone who wants to improve the technology, literacy and math skills needed to be successful in both work and life.  Noteworthy courses include a series on life skills such as reading labels and making sense of tax documents.

Saylor Foundation  - Features over 200 free, self-paced, automated courses, with a focus on undergraduate college level material. While Saylor does not confer degrees, they do offer the knowledge equivalent of thirteen popular disciplines.

I hope to have the time someday to explore a course like "Moralities of Everyday Life", but right now I'm pretty happy to be able to take a guided course on Outlook, free and in the comfort of my own home.  I hope you find something useful from MCPL too!


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