Get the most out of online learning
Online degrees, distance learning, MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses)– whatever we call it, many students are becoming more and more interested in technology-enabled education. In fact, earlier this month Coursera announced the first MOOC-based MBA degree with the University of Illinois College of Business. It almost seems as if students no longer have to struggle for an admissions seat, travel half way around the world and pay a quarter of a million dollars to get a global education.
Industry experts are banking on the promise and opportunity that MOOC’s offer to students. But even the most optimistic, including Rick Levin, CEO of Coursera, acknowledge that a complete disruption of traditional learning is unlikely in the near future. Online education is most likely to affect institutions which have traditionally had a weaker campus-to-learner connection – these include colleges that serve older populations or students who are returning to education after a break – e.g. adult and professional education.
The other population of students that stands to benefit tremendously from online courses are those outside the US. According to Levin of Coursera, “about 73% of our learners are outside the US and about half of those are in emerging economies.” Indeed this has been my experience working with Indian students for whom the online courses offer a supplement to rigid, sometimes outdated syllabus topics or offer exposure to subjects or approaches that are not available in typical Indian colleges and schools. I recently met a student in a small town in India who had been active in her school’s music program, but supplemented this activity by taking an online music composition course through Coursera. When she applies to college later this year, her Coursera enrolment will offer evidence of her willingness to find learning opportunities wherever she can. It does not matter whether this was in music, cookery or computer coding, it is the demonstrated initiative that counts.
For MBA applicants online courses can also help demonstrate sincerity and focus. Many applicants to top business schools do not have a degree in management. But if you’re an engineer applying to business school and saying that you have realized you want to deep dive into the business challenges posed by big data, for example, you should have a couple of solid experiences that demonstrate your exposure to these challenges. One can be a work-related experience, but the other could also be a series of online courses in the topic. Of course you would need to complete the course and any assignments or projects and also achieve a good grade, but this shows your willingness to commit to a topic that interests you, rather than just posing it as something you’d like to do but do not know much about it.
Similarly for undergraduates, besides the music example given above, students can engage with online learning to understand what they want to pursue further or to supplement their school’s curriculum. For example students whose school curriculum limits them to science, commerce or arts, yet they still have a love for history, can pursue history courses online to demonstrate their interest.
Online learning platforms and models are numerous – whether you want to dabble in a course here and there, sign up for a course that is part online and part in person, or you are looking to complete a full degree online, it is important to evaluate the offerings well so that you achieve your goals. If you’re self motivated, then sign up to learn from the best. EdX offers courses with Stanford University Graduate School of Business professors on entrepreneurship. Coursera offers the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania’s core courses in management and Udacity offers a Master’s degree in Computer Science from Georgia Tech all at a fraction of the on-campus cost. Online learning offers students of all varieties the chance to learn from the best in the world, enhance their skills and broaden their minds with little risk, effort or cost, so what are you waiting for?