Marlborough, MA, May 22, 2008
Most advertising campaigns for online education programs tout online courses as tickets to career advancement. If you've thought that online courses were only for people looking to get their foot in the career door, think again. Online courses can enrich your life. Do you like to garden? Write? Travel? Do you love old films, mystery novels, or modern art? Do you wish you knew more about history, religion, or world cultures? There are online courses that address all of these interests, and you might be pleasantly surprised by what other kinds of courses are out there.
Currently, over three million people take online courses, and universities are offering more online courses in response to this high demand. Online courses can be ideal for developing your interests and making your recreational pastimes more meaningful aspects of your life. For those already enrolled in college, an online course can provide opportunities to explore fields outside of your major without worrying about course scheduling conflicts. If you're retired, these courses allow you to learn about a subject you've long wanted to know more about, as well as meet people who share your interests. For those who are crunched for time by either careers or personal circumstances, online courses have flexible schedules and requirements. In many cases, you can even take an online course where you are free from the high stakes pressures of grades and assignments.
What Kinds of Courses Can You Take?
The distance learning centers of universities offer courses on everything from Shakespeare to the Culture of India to the Art of Film. These courses are designed and taught by experienced professors who have scholarly credentials and classroom experience. Furthermore, these classes are convenient to take. You advance through the course material at your own pace. You can savor the experience of learning more about your favorite subject or undertaking a new interest any place, any time.
What Are Online Courses Like?
Most courses use a variety of mediums and technology to deliver information and appeal to different learning styles and goals. In a course on the art of film, for example, you can watch the films at your leisure. You can then participate in online activities such as listening to podcasts of the professor's lectures, taking fun trivia quizzes that test your knowledge of film history, or chiming in on online discussions with other classmates. Such activities can deepen your understanding of something you already love, peak new interests, and help you meet new people who, like you, enjoy the subject.
Online courses can be more than pleasing opportunities to increase your knowledge. They can hone existing skill sets and help you establish new ones. Many online courses offer practical, hands on guidance from an experienced instructor. For example, in an award winning and innovative course on mystery novels offered by the University of California at Berkeley, students learn about the craft of writing mystery novels.
The course is set up as a virtual tour through an old mansion. Students proceed through the course by touring individual rooms that are lavishly stocked with furniture, books, games, and mystery. When students finish touring the rooms and completing the reading, lectures, and activities located on the virtual shelves, they turn in a creative research project. Suggested projects include research into the history of police detectives in the student's home town, and a visual collage of photos, news stories, and police reports from a specific city and historical time period (like San Francisco in the 1940s). The instructor gives students feedback on these projects. Students leave the class with raw materials and experience that they can use to write their own mystery novel.
How to Choose an Online Class
You can enroll in online courses without enrolling in a degree-oriented program. In other words, you can pick and choose, course by course, what you want to learn about from a variety of universities. Online universities are not the best places to look for these courses. Rather than taking courses from degree mills that promise you an associate's degree in accounting, consider looking for online courses from universities that offer classroom based courses as well as online courses. A recent survey has shown that 96% of institutions with student enrollments over 15,000 offer online courses. You don't need to find an online university to take online courses.
A good place to start searching for online courses is the distance learning center at your state university. Browse their course catalog for courses that interest you. You can choose from a variety of courses, some of which will count for college credit, some of which will not. Admittedly, online education suits some interests and people better than others. Courses in the humanities and liberal arts, as well as introductory courses, are more easily delivered online than courses that require, for example, extensive lab research. Many distance learning centers let you 'test drive' a course before you enroll. You can read a sample lesson and review the assignments to determine if the course fits your goals and time constraints.
What You Should Keep in Mind
While doing the work for these courses should be a pleasure since you've decided to take the course for your own personal growth, you should enroll in these courses with realistic expectations. An online course from a reputable university will likely cost you at least $700.00, but costs will depend on where you enroll. Certain courses from Cornell, for example, will cost you more than $900.00 per credit hour. If you choose a course that is graded, know that the assignments you turn in will be assessed by the instructor the same way as those turned in for a classroom-based course. In other words, your enthusiasm for the subject will only get you so far; you have to be willing to do the reading and the work for the class. In a recent report, however, students claimed that their online courses were more satisfying and enriching than classroom courses, and faculty reported that student work in online courses was as good as, and often exceeded, the work completed in traditional classroom settings.
If you do decide to take an online course for personal growth, consider getting together a group of friends who can take the course with you. Perhaps you're part of a local book club or a museum group. You can all enjoy the experience of learning more about your interests from an online course, and you'll have a community of peers outside of the class you can share your learning with. And who knows, maybe you'll not only enrich your understanding of your favorite subject, or find a new and fascinating topic for study, but establish skills that can turn your hobby into a new career.