Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Online Learning for Free - a Comparison

In previous years, after school, all you had available for additional, continuing learning was either to go to evening school, university or sometimes learn all on your own in the library or via TV. I'm sure I missed a few other possibilities.

Now, with broadband internet and easy access over personal computers, laptops and mobile phones
learning has stepped up a notch for older learners (like me).

I have tried a few different websites by now. My courses were ranging from social sciences over some theoretical design to computer and website coding (aka programming).

The experience was very good a few years back; now it's more and more just a way to pass the time.
Why? Because when I did my first course on computer coding I really had to code myself to pass the course. Or in the social science one I had to write up some small essays that got peer reviewed and I had to do the same for my fellow students.
Now, all I had to do was answer some quizzes correctly in between the videos or just sit through them to get the certificate for completion / achievement of the course.
I have not tried the paid courses yet, as I don't want to "waste" money only to find out that you get a certificate too just for watching and clicking.

Anyway, the courses I did, in detail:

Udacity: Computer Science 101

This was my first online curse in 2012 to which I have made some blog entries here as well (links to those at bottom of the page):
I had to answer short quizzes during the video lectures, as well as right after them, to check how much attention I have paid to the presented material and do some external exercises.
After the lectures (spaced over some weeks) there was a final test. You had to pass 80% to get your certificate of accomplishment,
It was really learning and hard work to get there, not all of the students passed.
Here my certificate, of which I am a bit proud (but lots of what I have learned there I have not used later and thus basically forgotten how to use it).

Coursera: Social Psychology
Toward the end of 2013 I was getting bored at the computer so I signed up for some more online courses, this time with Coursera. Someone on G+ advertised a course in Irrational Behavior. Although the topic seemed interesting the presentation was more a sales show for the instructor's books, so I dropped out without even finishing the course. It is still available in my course portfolio though. So if I feel inclined I can still take that course.
A week later I signed up for Social Psychology. In this course we again had some small quizzes
during the videos and afterwards, but we also had to write some short essays, resumes or something similar, implementing what we had learned in that week. This then got peer reviewed and we had to do at least 5 reviews of our fellow students. The results of that was our % to move on.
While the course ran for the first time slight changes got made during the duration of it; the last essay was put into a contest as well. This way you could get 110%; but it was not compulsory to enter the contest.
Overall you had to reach 75%; which I think was quite fair to reach if you really learned and did your "homework" of writing and reviewing.
So this too is a certificate I can say I truly feel I have achieved.

Udacity: Tales of the Genome
Just as the Coursera course was done I signed up for this course with Udacity again. I got about half way through when life got it the way and I had to take a break. I still got my certificate though, as I had reached the required 50% of the course.
her we had very short video lectures with a advancing line on top that showed which parts you had seen and which were still not done - including where there were quizzes and test. I have reached the first exam part (of three and that was done half way - enough to pass it seems.
But maybe it was this way too as Udacity shortly after i had started the course changed from free to to free trail versions for most of their course.
To proof to myself that I do have earned his certificate i will finish this course as long as it is still available to me when I'm ready for that.

Cousera: Clinical Psychology
This Autumn I signed up for this course to continue from the social psychology. Mainly theory, this course had different lecturers in the videos that also were responsible for the quizzes at the end of the unit. Thus the difficulty of the quizzes were quite a wide range; from easy (with 3 attempts for solving it) over medium (with 20 attempts) to standard difficulty with a laughingly 99 attempts for 10 questions in 4 answers multiple choice questions. Anyone who failed that last one doesn't know about how to solve quizzes.
Nonetheless, if you paid attention and read the questions carefully 2 attempts would be enough to pass this course with 100% (only 70% were needed). The way the theories were presented was ok, sometimes filming outside did give sound problems and the transcript was not included but an extra download.
Overall, an easily achieved certificate.

Just as this course was done (and I had not yet received the certificate) I was asked to try out a similar course by a different provider for free online courses:

Open2Study: Early Childhood Education

My time for having little children up to school age is over, unless I get grandchildren. Still, this course interested me as it covered part of the previous course I had taken.
Here, the videos were short, with interactive transcription of what was being said. The given examples made it very easy to then answer the 10 questions following each weeks lessons. Lasting 4 weeks, I managed to do each week in a few hours including the quiz, which I always passed 100% on the first attempt.
Overall this was too easy for me; but I recommend this course to all parents-to-be. It does clearly show what it take to truly help a child to grow up.

Since learning seems easy for me, I wanted to learn more about web design and/or programming to maybe make a better website for myself with what I have learned.
So, I searched for free courses that teach that (and my first computer programming course showed me I can learn stuff like that too).

Udacity does not offer those for free anymore, only for a 14-day free trial (about half way through the course), so I did not choose any courses there.

Coursera does have free courses, but they are all already half way though the course. Maybe next time around, when they start again.

Open2Study offers only one starting on 20th October ("Writing for the Web"). I will see then how that one is like.

So I searched for other sites with free courses.

Found one on Alison. The videos though are embedded (if you want them for free) in lots of advertising. I found it hard to follow; and thus it only presented the rudimentary basics I already know in a very dry way. I did not finish this course so far; might look into it at some alter point as there is no time limit on when you finish. ;)

And then there is Udemy:
Some free courses for programming and related to website writing .
I took one for Introduction for Graphic Design, hoping it would tell me something about how to organize images on websites. It did, but only in theory. And, worst of all, to pass you only had to sit through the 45 minutes of videos to get the certificate:

I feel disappointed that there was no way to check if I had learned anything at all. 

I tried another course; this time about web development.
Again, only videos, no quizzes. But it had a "lab exercise" at the end of each unit to implement what you have learned. Solutions are given in the download section to each lecture (which I didn't find at first. That sure could use a little make-over.)
The last lab exercise is to write your own form through which you can get your certificate.  
Here it is; with the form to make it, for which we had to copy-paste the html into our editor adding a few missing things like CSS styles and JavaScript to make the output as it is. 
When I first tried it, it was missing was the signature image. I found it in the downloads to the lecture under solutions. So actually, all you had to do was copy-paste this whole thing to get your certificate. Well, as this course is online for already over a year, I guess that's the only way to help students that don't manage to fill in the few missing things by themselves. 

Additionally (and that's a minus point  for this course), they give you a certificate anyway after sitting through the videos:

This course has helped me understand some of the things, I had been doing, in a different way. New to me was the CSS and JavaScript inside the html code. Not a thing for having many similar pages, or? There must be a better way to style your pages (and I am using a external style sheet on my website).
Might look into some more of the more specific courses there about CSS, Javascript and PHP.

And finally the links to my earlier blog posts about the very first online course I took:


I bet there a lot other places for free online learning, but I'm not going through all of them. 
And then there are those sites were you can learn other languages online for free too................. got to go on with those that I started some time back. :P
I guess, I have enough places now to keep me occupied and learning (and not just playing silly online flash games to pass the time). 

=)) Have a great time learning...................

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