Take an Online Course

I heard someone once describe themselves as "addicted to learning." Which made me laugh--because it's silly--and because when you look around Extension, it's so true! Well don't bother checking into rehab, we're going to hook you up, Quickbytes style!


This week we are going to look at online courses. And I'm not talking about as an educator, I'm talking about as a STUDENT! You'll be encouraged to try an online course or two, and shown some places to start.


I truly believe online education is critical to the future of Extension. We are getting there,slowly, but there has long been something I've suspected is an issue. Most of us went to school before "online education" existed. I went to classes for 19 years and never once experienced anything except face-to-face learning. Without firsthand experience being a student online, how can we educate effectively online?


A revolutionary movement is currently taking place to make high-quality courses widely available for free online. These courses typically offer no credit or certificate. It is learning for learning's sake, made free 

Online courses that are taught live involve a cohort of students that step through the course with the instructor along a syllabus timeline. When these are taught openly for free online, they are called MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses. 

When I first heard about MOOCs, it was in reference to the now famous Stanford Artificial Intelligence online course offered in Fall of 2011. The professors decided to open it up to the world, in addition to the registered Stanford students, and ended up with 160,000 students in a class that typically has 177. 23,000 finished the complete course. The course included many interactive features you may not have predicted, like peer grading, virtual office hours, and online discussion forums where students could ask and answer questions, and vote on which were important enough to filter up the professor. 

Here is a quote from one of the professors, Sebastian Thrun--I get chills whenever I read it:

"Having done this, I can't teach at Stanford again. I feel like there's a red pill and a blue pill, and you can take the blue pill and go back to your classroom and lecture your 20 students. But I've taken the red pill, and I've seen Wonderland."

The Stanford professors say their decision to open the course up was greatly inspired by the efforts of the Khan Academy, an amazingly effective free teaching site full of simple videos geared for K-12 but surprisingly addictive for adults too. 

We can all be part of this movement and take a course from Stanford, MIT, Harvard, for free. Did you ever think you'd do that in your lifetime?

Here are some sites to look around on:

Khan Academy
The aforementioned Khan Academy is amazing. You simply must check it out if you haven't already.

Coursera has complete, synchronous (taught live) courses from 18 universities. I am currently enrolled in Internet History, Technology, and Security. It has 35,000 students, is seven weeks long, and looks like this:

The Saylor Foundation offers free, college-level, self-paced courses (these are not MOOCs), which are grouped together in "Majors," a very cool way that they categorize their offerings. Each area of study shows core courses, pre-requisites, and electives. 

iTunes U
Anybody can use iTunes--you don't need an iPhone or iPad, just a plain computer will do--and access the awesomeness that is iTunes U. There are many free courses on iTunes, some video, some audio. I am definitely addicted to iTunes U!! Apple claims this is the largest catalog of free education content in the world, and I believe it. It is complete and utter awesomeness. 


  1. Repeat after me: I will take an online course!
  2. Explore the sites above. Sign up for a course!
  3. Download iTunes. Download and watch/listen to something from iTunes U.
  4. Leave a comment and let us know what course you signed up for, what you found on iTunes U, or what has got you particularly excited about online education!