Right after my graduation I asked myself – “what now”? Not because I wouldn’t know what to do with my life, but because I was unsure how to further improve myself from that point on. I was worried that it would become harder for me to gather new, valuable knowledge. Of course, the internet is overflowing with all kinds of information ripe for picking – almost too good to be true. In fact there’s too much information – you would need to waste a lot of time picking out the gems from junk. While in school the sorting out was being done for you – 12 years at first, 4 more years ir undergrad school second, the newly found freedom may seem pressuring when in educational institutions most of the information came in pre-sorted form. Can you find that kind of refined, packaged knowledge online? Some of the best choices are – Coursera, Udacity and edX – free universities built within the internet. More on Coursera next:

What is Coursera?

Coursera gives you the opportunity to take the courses that are taught in the world’s best universities, online. This project, started by a couple of Stanford professors, is barely 10 months old, but despite its young age the website already hosts the largest number of users among other websites of its type – over 3 million “students”. The project was recently joined by 29 additional graduate schools (62 in total) and 92 new classes (329 in total). The classes are categorized into 24 topics, such as engineering, humanities, medicine, biology, mathematics, sociology, business and computer science.


Why start?

Despite the inherent human curiosity and desire for self-improvement, Coursera lets you choose classes of varying difficulty to further improve your knowledge in your subject areas, discover related areas or take up something completely new and different.

How does the teaching take place?

After a quick signup to the website you may choose from a selection of classes, related to your interests, ordered by category, language, date, school or type of type of certificate. You may enroll in an unlimited number of courses, but you should keep in mind that the average workload will consume 5 to 7 hours per week per course. Course descriptions provide detailed information about what you should expect to learn. All you have to do is enroll and start studying. If the course has already begun you have three options:

1. Use the course materials simply as reference without seeking a statement of accomplishment.

2. Try to catch up to the rest of the class (usually there is a one-week deadline for homework, after which the points rewarded may be reduced. To get a statement of accomplishment you should gather at least 80-90% of that classes’ average grade by the end of the course)

3. Wait until the course is offered once again (usually after 6 or 12 months)

Most likely you will find a course that is about to start within the current month. You will be informed about the start of classes by email so don’t be afraid of missing out. All the materials can be accessed on your profile page, the materials are provided in video, several topics a week at a time. Homework is given in written or quiz form, some courses may include exams. In short, everything is more or less like in the brick-and-mortar schools where a lot depends on the creativity of the lecturer.


What will I receive upon completing the course?


Those who value their CV’s will be delighted by personal statements of accomplishment with the school’s logo and signature of the lecturer. Granted, these statements do not match real graduate diplomas, which are awarded in the actual universities. If the statement is not proof enough (to you personally or to your employer), you may opt to pay (30-100$) at the start of the course to receive a certificate with confirmation of your identity. Coursera is the first website to offer this system of validation of credentials online.

In conclusion

The certificates themselves might look valueless, although the judgement is subjective. To me personally my grad school diploma may seem insignificant, but others may value it well, along with other types of ‘documents’ of accomplishment – the more the better. I think the information and experience are most important, along with the chance to actually observe professors from the best universities in the world doing their teaching. You can share your impressions with your online “classmates” using the forum, where you may also post questions to the lecturers. Often times there are real-life meetings organized in some places. If you seek to improve yourself and can spare several hours per week, Coursera provides the perfect opportunity to expand your horizons. You can’t oversleep the lectures here, only the opportunity.

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