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Considering Online Education? 5 Ways to Get Your Feet Wet

considering-online-educationLet’s face it; life is hectic. Whether it’s the daily grind of getting the kids off to school or preparing for another day at a thankless job, we get it. Your life is busy.

But why let that stop you from going after the things you really want for yourself and your family? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to plan and pay for next year’s holiday this year? How good would it feel to finally be recognized for the great work you’re doing at the office? Most importantly, if you don’t set the example for your kids that hard work brings success, who will?

The best way to achieve the things you want in life might be an option you haven’t even considered: online education.

More than 6.7 million American students were enrolled in at least one online course in 2011, according to a 2013 statement from the Babson Research Group. That’s an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year.

The survey also found that 77 percent of academic leaders rated the outcomes in online courses equal or superior to those of face-to-face classes. And 69 percent of those leaders said online coursework was “critical” to their long-term education strategy.

You might be a bit leery about the value of an online education, but it’s hard to argue with the facts. If you want to try it out, here are five ways to get your feet wet:

1. EdX

EdX is a non-profit organization that offers free online courses. Though not accredited, these courses are taught by actual professors. EdX hopes to “democratize” higher education by making it available for everyone, not just those who can afford it. Course formats include video lectures, automated feedback and interactive learning and discussion boards. EdX courses are similar to accredited courses and may include prerequisites; assignments will have deadlines; and students will receive actual grades.

What this means for you: Enrolling in an EdX course will be a close comparison to pursing an actual online degree. Students will experience a similar workload and course structure to that of an online degree without ever getting their wallets involved. EdX is an excellent way to determine if you are ready to commit to an online degree.

2. Coursera

Coursera boasts 21.5 million students from 190 different countries. The Coursera philosophy is that students will master the material and then use their education to affect change in their communities. Their methodology is based on providing immediate feedback, concept retrieval and interactive exercises to maximize understanding of the material.

What this means for you: In addition to experiencing a “traditional” online degree program, Coursera students work to master the material they study. Graduates of the program will be prepared to bring a new skill set or greater understanding of a subject into their jobs, homes and communities. Coursera is another way to determine if the coursework and time commitment of an online degree fits with your schedule.

3. Open Education Database (OEDb)

  • Cost: Database is free to use. Cost depends on school and course
  • Affiliated schools: not applicable
  • Popular subjects: not applicable
  • Credential: not applicable

True to its name, OEDb is simply a database. It provides information about online schools, including which schools offer free, non-accredited and for-credit courses. OEDb helps you find the degree that makes sense for you by allowing you to search by school, program, subject matter or degree type (e.g., associate, bachelor’s or master’s). OEDb also uses eight different metrics to build its annual “online college rankings.”

What this means for you: This site enables users to browse and compare a variety of different schools and programs. If you are someone who likes to know what all your options are, this is a good resource for moving forward.


  • Cost: $25 per month (basic membership)
  • Affiliated schools: not applicable
  • Popular subjects: business, animation, design (full list)
  • Credential: Certificate of Completion

Lynda instructors provide instruction through online video tutorials. Focused mostly on creating or improving new skills sets, Lynda is heavily focused on practical learning rather than academic theory. Many of its course offerings lean toward software and design. Course introduction tutorials are free while a $25/month basic membership allows access to all of the tutorials.

What this means for you: If you’re only looking to dip your toe in the world of online learning, this may be a good starting place. Without the deadlines and structure of a typical online classroom, this is an easy way to introduce yourself to a subject while accommodating your already busy lifestyle. For a small monthly fee, you get to determine how much knowledge and how many skills you learn.

5. iTunes U

  • Cost: Free app. Many free courses
  • Affiliated schools: Stanford, Oxford & many more
  • Popular subjects: not applicable
  • Credential: depends on school and course

Professors and teachers create courses using this app so the subject matter is virtually unlimited. The app used to be accessible only through iTunes but is now compatible with all mobile devices. The mobile-friendly version also allows users to see course outlines and reviews before subscribing. Some reading materials (iBooks) for courses may have an associated cost but most video lectures and PDFs for the courses are free.

What does this mean for you: You’re probably already using apps to bank, listen to music, search product reviews and update your social media accounts. Adding education to that list is a smart and simple way to introduce online learning into your daily life. This is a good option to help you learn at your own pace and accommodate your personal and professional lifestyle.

The takeaway …

There’s never been a better, or easier, way to introduce yourself to the world of online education. Dip your toe in or dive head first—you’re likely to find something that meets your needs and fits your lifestyle.

If you like what you’ve seen from these mostly-free online education options, check out Rasmussen College’s online degree programs. Regardless of which option you choose, here are 5 Simple Tips for Online Classes.

Megan Ruesink

Megan is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She hopes to engage and intrigue current and potential students.


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