Online classes have increased steadily in popularity over the last decade. Although some students love the convenience of the online classroom format, others struggle without the structure of an actual classroom. It can be difficult to justify spending the tuition for an online course if you’re not sure that it will work for you. Fortunately, websites like Coursera, edX, and Udacity offer MOOCs (massive open online courses). MOOCs are online classes that are often free—or low-cost, if you’d like a certificate at the end. Some MOOCs are self-paced; because the course materials are all immediately available, you can finish them as quickly or slowly as you want. Others follow a more traditional timeline.
Besides testing out online learning, there are a variety of benefits to taking a MOOC, including:
A chance to learn more about a subject or hobby of interest: Whether you’ve always been interested in software development, food and nutrition, or marketing, there is a course for you! With so many students now turning to online courses, new topics are constantly being added. Although computer science, IT, and technology used to be the fields with the most online courses available, other subjects are quickly gaining ground. It is worth noting that subjects which require significant hands-on experience (including medicine, culinary arts, and visual arts) will likely have the smallest online presence.
Résumé enhancement: If you’re in the market for a new job or are angling for a promotion, taking a free class to further develop skills that you already have or that you’ll need to move up the ladder is a great option. If you’re trying to head back to school, having a few classes under your belt will show admissions representatives that you’re serious about furthering your education. Even if your classes don’t result in a certificate of completion (or you choose not to pay for one), you’ll benefit from putting in the time and your résumé (and LinkedIn profile) will boom!
Personal growth: By challenging yourself to learn about a new subject you’ll expand your knowledge, but also learn a lot about yourself in the process. Do you like this topic as much as you thought you would? Are you motivated to finish the material? If yes, then you know that you may be ready to try more classes on the subject. If no, then consider why. Were you not interested in the material? Is the online format a poor fit for you? Either way, you’ll have learned about yourself and your likes and dislikes when it comes to the class and it’s format.
Nothing to lose but time: You should be able to find a free class on just about any topic, although some might charge a fee if you want a certificate at the end. Otherwise, the only cost is the time you spend learning the material. Although this is time that you could have spent doing other things that you enjoy, in the grand scheme of things, it is a small investment compared to what you could gain from the experience.
New opportunities: If you find a topic you love, you could take more classes on the subject or even work toward a certificate, which could help further your current career. Or, you may choose instead to pursue a degree in a new field and start a new career. Either way, the possibilities are endless, and there’s no way to go but up!
Comfort and convenience: You take online classes from wherever you feel like taking them, provided you have internet access. Enrollment won’t get in the way of your travel plans or cause you to have to sit in traffic for hours on end to get to and from campus. Campus is, in essence, your computer. If you want to be sprawled out across your bed in your pajamas while learning about economics, you can be (though it’s not the most conducive environment to learning). If you want to go to a coffee shop at 6:00 a.m. to do your assignments, you can. If you want to take a break to go for a run, have at it! You do class when you want to do class, and you can be as comfortable (hello, athleisure) or as formal about it as you want.
Like-minded classmates: While you’re not going to physically sit next to another student while you’re working on forum posts or listening to pre-recorded lectures, you will virtually interact with other students. You’re not going to be the only person enrolled in a particular class at a particular time. Students from around the world who are interested in the same material will be “in” class with you, too. Learn from their posts and their questions, and ask your own too!
Even if you decide that the online format is not for you, if you like the subject(s) and want to continue your education, you can enroll in classes at a local college or community college. You have little to lose, and everything to gain. Why not give it a shot?