According to a June 13 CNN/Money article, "Surging college costs price out middle class", the average student in 2008 was paying $6,500 in tuition each year at a four-year university. Student loans are at an all-time high totaling over $20,000 per student upon graduation. In light of these staggering numbers, some students are trying to explore all their options. What about those free online courses?
What are free online courses?
Several reputable colleges and universities have started making their course offering available online for free. The most extensive is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) program of over 2000 courses available through their Open Courseware program. These are past classes with lessons and assignments available for download. There is no professor or student interaction. Online programs such as Coursera, Udacity, and Edx involve professors, deadlines, and student-to-student conversations in the course. There are generally more offerings of courses in math and sciences due to their ability to provide homework and assignments that are easier to create and evaluate on a large scale, than say 40,000 research papers. However, course loads are broadening to include humanities as well, including history, literature and social sciences.
Why are you taking the course?
Free online courses are great for developing skills such as learning a language or using a new software program. They can be beneficial for professional development or for learning more in a subject of interest. However, if you need to obtain a college degree in order to find a job in the marketplace, online courses may not be the best option. Most programs for free online courses from colleges and universities only offer certificates of completion for courses, not college credit. In the MIT program, there may not even be tests and answers to self-evaluate understanding of information. One suggestion for making the most of the free courses is to complete one in an introductory subject area and then to take one of 33 College Level Preparation Exams (CLEP) to earn college credit. Most of the exams cover introductory level courses and your college may have restrictions on which subject areas can apply credit or how many credits can be used towards a degree. This would be similar to a high school student taking Advanced Placement courses (AP) and then earning college credit through the examinations. By going this route, a student may be able to receive credits for up to a semester or a year's worth of classes, saving thousands of dollars.
Listing the courses on a resume
If the courses do not provide college credit, or work towards a degree, how will they be perceived on a resume? These courses are much better suited for professional development to show mastery of a task and determination to develop skills for the workplace. Classes in software, foreign languages, or communication would be beneficial depending on the vocation. Unfortunately, at this time, listing completion certifications on your resume from MIT will not pull the same weight as someone who has a degree from MIT. In general, free online courses are still best suited for professional development or mastering the subject to pass a certification exam.
About the AuthorAaron Gormley is big proponent of online learning, which is why he writes this article on behalf of a site that helps you train for Careers in Psychology.