Did You Know You Can Study at the World’s Top Universities For Free?

University tuition fees are a political hot potato at the moment. The going rate for a year’s tuition at a top University in England can be anything up £9,000, and although students don’t have to pay up front, the thought of accumulating several tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt for tuition fees and living expenses is putting many people off pursuing higher education.

The situation across the Pond is even more acute, with tuition fees at a top University like Harvard or Yale costing in excess of £30,000 a year – well out of the price range for most. So, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could get tuition from some of the best Universities in the world for absolutely nothing? Whether you’ve been to university before or not, there are some fantastic FREE opportunities out there whatever your age…

What is a MOOC?

Online Learning

Over the last few years, many higher education institutions have started to explore the world of online education. Many students enrolled on degree courses are uploading assignments or emailing them to tutors rather than printing off hard copies, accessing video lectures or other online material, or participating in discussion forums with fellow students.

A MOOC takes this concept one stage further. A MOOC – or Massive Online Open Course – brings together students from across the globe to study the same course at the same time. MOOCs are generally free to join, and there are no entry qualifications. You just click the “join course” button online, and start studying.

Where can I find MOOCs?

Hands Typing

There are three main websites where you can sign up to MOOCs; Coursera, EdX and FutureLearn. The first two are American-based websites and FutureLearn is British. It doesn’t really matter where the websites are located though, as they play host to courses offered from Universities around the world, in many different subjects.

The subject matter is diverse; courses on offer from the three main websites include The Music of the Rolling Stones, Applications of Linear Algebra, Cryptography and Modern Hebrew Poetry. Whatever your interest, you should be able to find a course to suit. And, if you’re unsure whether Hebrew poetry is your cup of tea, you can sign up, watch a couple of lectures and then decide without having committed any money.

How MOOCs work

Man Using Tablet

Every MOOC is different and the structure of each course will depend on the University that is offering the course and the course material. What is common to most MOOCs though is the video lecture. Most courses are split into a number of units, each exploring a different aspect of the subject at hand. Each unit will comprise a number of video lectures, which students watch at a time that suits them.

Many MOOCs also provide links to further reading on the topic concerned, multiple choice quizzes to check learning, a final exam, forums to discuss the topics with other students, peer-graded assignments (you submit your assignment and it is then reviewed and marked by your fellow students, and you mark theirs), Google hangouts to discuss issues with the tutor and fellow students or homework assignments to prepare for the following week.

All the requirements to pass the course are clearly laid out at the beginning along with the start date, and as long as you complete assignments or quizzes by the deadline, you can work at your own pace.

Cost Implications

Man With Laptop

MOOCs are free to join, and free to take part in – all you need is a reliable Internet connection, and some free time to watch the videos, do a bit of reading, and complete your assignments. Some of the websites, such as Coursera and EdX, offer a second option for those students who want to use the MOOC course to support an application to a traditional University, or to further their job prospects.

These students can choose to pay a fee of around £30 to join the verified certificate track. These students follow exactly the same course with the same lectures and same assignments as everyone else, but they go through additional security procedures to have their identity verified and earn an accredited certificate which they can then print off and show to employers. This is purely voluntary at present, but with MOOCs being expensive to produce and manage, who knows whether a small fee to participate will become standard practice at some point in the future?

Time Commitment

Man on Laptop

One of the best things about taking part in a MOOC is that you can work at a pace that suits you. New material is generally released weekly, and you don’t have to do a whole week’s work at once. You could download lectures onto a smartphone or tablet and watch them on the train on the way to work, or during a lunch break.

Most of the courses will give a rough indication of the time commitment required for the course, but it all really depends on how many times you want to watch the lectures and how long you take over the quizzes and assignments. It’s also easy to get drawn into discussions on forums with fellow students, and some MOOC students organise study groups and meet-ups with others in the local area, but it’s entirely up to the individual whether to get involved to this level or not.

Future of MOOCs

Business Man

MOOCs have a high dropout rate and, on some courses, only 10% of those who initially sign up complete the course and earn a certificate. It seems certain though that in the future there will be more of a move to online learning both for traditional three or four year degree courses and for people learning at home as a hobby.

All of the major MOOC websites have expressed their commitment to continuing free education for all through their websites, but it is almost certain that websites will start charging for more “extras” such as online tutorials with the course tutor, or even going down the route of offering a whole degree syllabus through the MOOC model. Although not free, the Georgia Institute of Technology was the first to offer a MOOC-style computer science degree in 2014. The cost for the entire course is around £4,500 – a fraction of the cost of a traditional University course.

So, if you’d like to study at one of the world’s top universities, what’s stopping you? Fair enough, you’re not going to get a degree out of it, but the verified courses could give your career a vital boost if a full-time £9,000 per year degree is out of reach. And, with courses on every subject under the sun, you’re bound to find something to interest you.