I used to think higher education was only for geniuses or people with lots of money. I was working two jobs and barely getting by, and if someone hadn’t helped me figure out how to make use of the educational resources at my disposal, I would still be living paycheck to paycheck rather than building a career.
The truth is, it is easier than ever to get educated, and cheaper too. There are loads of resources at your fingertips if you know how to find them. But for many people, that is the sticking point: you have to know what you have access to in order to get an education, but if you aren’t in the educational system, chances are high that you don’t know what you have access to.
Of course, not all knowledge comes with a degree, and not all degrees come with all that much knowledge. There are plenty of degreed and degree-less options and plenty of jobs that value demonstration of skill above a degree. Depending on your goals and interests, a combination of the two is likely the best bet for most people.
Almost all degree courses cost money, but not all degrees guarantee a well-paying job, or even any job, while there are plenty of self-taught people working for leading companies all over the world.
You can take classes online, now more than ever. Most colleges in the U.S. recognize the value and convenience of the virtual classroom to teachers and students, although few offer full degrees online. Some classes lend themselves to a digital platform (like computer sciences) while others are more difficult, though not impossible. I took Spanish 101 online using video chatting software (like Skype) to communicate with my teacher and classmates, and it was difficult, though not impossible.
YouTube is the only thing that got me through a college algebra class with a bad teacher. Math is not my strongest suite (which is why I am an English major!), but I found a wealth of tutors on YouTube teaching everything I needed to know. I found one who explained things in a way that made sense to me and then watched whichever of his videos corresponded with what I was learning. I also found YouTube tutors for Spanish and learning Adobe Photoshop. The best part is that if they are moving too fast for you to follow along, you can pause or rewind the video.
- Crash Course is a channel owned and operated by John and Hank Green (the Vlogbrothers) and a team of experts, aimed at providing an easy-to-follow and entertaining overview of topics like world history, biology, physics, literature, and more.
- Sci Show is another channel by the same people focused on topics in science.
Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are courses offered online (mostly for free) through some of the best universities, like Stanford, Harvard, MIT, John Hopkins, and University of Michigan. Some offer a certification at the end of their courses—which, while it isn’t a degree, is at least something tangible to show your hard work. But a few do also offer actual college credit, which can be transferred to the school of your choice.
You can learn about data science, robotics, programming, business, social sciences, take foreign language classes, and more.
- Coursera also offers four Masters Programs entirely online for a fee and intends to add 15 to 20 new degree programs by 2019.
- edX is very similar to Coursera, so if you can’t find what you are looking for on one site, check the other.
- Udacity is partnered with Google, Amazon, IBM and other leading tech companies to offer—surprise—training in the cutting edge technology of tomorrow. If you want to program websites, work on self-driving cars, develop artificial intelligence, or work with virtual reality, this may be the site for you. Some courses are free, some cost money. But all promise to set you up with real-world skills you can use to get into a career.
- Kadenze is focused on the arts, giving students a footing in the software they need to create music, art, and design projects. It also allows students to access many of their resources for free, but a $10/month membership fee unlocks all the features of an actual online learning experience, as well as all the classes and a certificate of completion. That’s the cost of a Netflix membership!
Do you remember sitting in history class? Or should I say, sleeping in history class? Maybe the teacher spoke in a monotone voice. Maybe he or she was way more interested in dates and maps than you were. Maybe they never quite got around to explaining the most important piece of the puzzle: why you should care.
The same thing could be said of travel. Most people would love to travel and see other parts of the world. But the same factor applies: I need to know what I’m looking at, what its significance is, and where it fits into my knowledge about the world, past and present, or I’m not going to care.
The future of learning and travel just got a whole lot brighter, because Google has figured out how to harness the power of their vast catalogue of educational materials and their Google Earth images to put together all the pieces for students to not only be able to see places and people (in the present and in a historical context), but to understand what the significance is, where this is taking place, and how it fits into their knowledge about the world. With all of that at your fingertips, how could you not care?
Google announced on their blog new features and resources geared toward helping educators and students. While some of these new features require a special Google for Education account, many can be accessed from home, putting better education within reach for anyone with an internet connection.
What kind of educational tools are we talking about?
Google Earth is in 3d, and has knowledge cards attached to major landmarks that explain cultural or historical significance: “condensed factual information that is frequently sought by a user in association with a given query.” But the real educational magic is in Google Earth Voyager.
Google Earth Voyager contains curated stories that provide guidance by pulling together geographic location and historical and cultural facts to foster geospatial learning. Google’s partnership with National Geographic, HHMI Biointeractive, PBS, Mission Blue, NASA, and BBC Earth gives students access to the best resources to explore the world, including videos, lessons, and interactive tools.
You can follow the trail of Lewis and Clark, the Vikings, or explorers along the Silk Road. You can see what scientists are up to while investigating climate change, the Ebola outbreak, or the coral reefs. See some of the most beautiful landscapes from BBC’s Planet Earth II. Explore World UNESCO sites. See the ruins of ancient civilizations, or explore modern ones by taking a grand tour of Italy. Follow the haunts of such authors as Charles Dickens and Hemingway.
And keep in mind that every step of the way, context is provided so that you know what you’re looking at and what is interesting or significant about it.
Age of the interactive classroom
All of these new features are just a small piece of what Google is making available to schools who purchase their Chromebooks, suite of educational programs, and resources for educators. Profiles of schools who have been using Chromebooks and the interactive tools provided by Google do report better engagement with some promising improvements in test scores and graduation rates to back up that claim.
Would I like to be a kid in school again? No. Am I a little bit bitter about all the new ways for children to learn what I had to struggle to memorize from a textbook? Maybe. But I’m willing to let it slide because there is nothing with the power to improve lives like education. And I’m no history, nature, or geography buff, but I don’t plan to let school-age children have all the fun.
There’s a lot of great education services on the web, and many of them offer free classes on a ton of different subjects, but have you checked out Alcamy yet? It’s a bit like the Wikipedia of learning courses. Alcamy has set out to offer an open source method of learning and teaching that relies on a combination of experts and an active learning tool called Darwin. In short, they hope to let anyone learn anything, for free! We love any service that offers opportunities for people to harness the power of their Internet connection for great purposes like learning new skills or just learning for the joy of it!
From their Introduction:
Experts and self-learners organize the resources of the web into cronological programs that you can learn from.
Resources are individual articles, projects, videos or presentations that are the actual learning material being curated.
Each resource is attached to a quiz. Actively test your understanding right then and there. Track your progress over time.
Each topic has a community of self-learners and experts. Ask them for help, discuss material. The learning resources under each topic self-adjust and improve as more people take them.
We’re taking an open, Wikipedia-like approach to curating content & information for self-learning. Call it a Wikipedia + Coursera + Reddit mashup. Our mission is to make learning and teaching using the resources already available on the web open, free and exciting!
Visit Alcamy.org to learn more about their exciting new platform!