The world is evolving, and the education system must change with it. However, being an institution steeped in tradition and pedagogy, the change in the hearts and minds of educators has been slow. The best online colleges are being accused of functioning as degree mills, not legitimate programs on the grounds that a campus is integral to student learning and many teachers are slow to adopt new technologies that enter their classrooms. Despite officials’ disdain for change, students are seeing the advancement of education as an opportunity to advance their careers and broaden their horizons.
The traditional education models seem to be offering less security and quality education for more cost lately, alternative sources of education are picking up the slack. Thousands of students around the all over the world are receiving first-rate teaching from passionate instructors, all for the cost of a WiFi connection. We often hear about the worsening state of education in the US. Class sizes are too large, budgets are too small, the quality of teaching is faltering, and all the while, tuition keeps going up.
In the past few years, online educational resources have been gaining a substantial following from web surfers curious enough to seek out knowledge further than their circle of Facebook friends. While average time spent online has been increasing for years, time online doesn’t have to mean time wasted. With the glut of social media sites and tabloid news online, it’s easy to forget how much information is available to people who never had a chance before, and many people are taking advantage of it.
The increasing popularity of the nonprofit TED Talks over the last couple years illustrates the internet’s power to proliferate interesting ideas and unique perspectives. TED stands for ‘Technology, Entertainment, and Design’, and TED videos cover an incredibly diverse array of topics that stretch those broad topics to cover just about any facet of life and are offered in dozens of languages. TED conferences have been an exclusive event since their inception in 1984, but since the TED Talks video site began five-years ago, the talks have reached a global audience of more than 500 million. However now that TED has been purchased by Netflix, it is likely that number will explode.
While the creative and often brilliant TED speakers can spark an interest in intellectual pursuits, Khan Academy instructs its visitors on how to apply complex concepts. Khan Academy is another education nonprofit with a goal of ‘changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere’. It is a simple goal to provide those without the means to attend the top traditional educational institutions, it could prove to be life-changing. Khan Academy videos illustrate concepts in science, math, humanities and test prep in simple, straightforward videos. The videos are rarely longer than 10 minutes and laid out in an intuitive, linear way, allowing a student to build upon their knowledge as they work through them.
The open and convenient nature of online learning is largely what sets it apart from traditional educational resources, and some of the best open-source online resources help users to continue online progress. Codec Academy, for instance, is a site that demystifies writing code in an social and simple way. “I thought about the best learning experiences I’ve had and realized it comes down to motivation and rewards systems,” Codec Academy co-creator Zach Sims said to Wired regarding Codec Academy’s peer-motivated philosophy. Team Treehouse, another site designed to make web design simple and intuitive, offers plans ranging from $25 – $49 a month. While Team Treehouse is only available for a charge, the skills customer satisfaction seems to be very high, as they’ve garnered strong reviews and have seen a 49% increase in membership each month.
Job markets are undoubtedly tough these days, and for many people with families and bills to pay cannot make further education a top priority. Yet these online resources are allowing even those working full time to continue garnering knowledge and marketable skills that can open options for advancement or even completely new careers. As academic knowledge becomes available to those far from the halls of traditional academia, the fresh perspectives on old ideas developed through open online sources may soon challenge our idea of what constitutes a traditional education.