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Open Education: How to Study for Free
Tuition fees are increasing all the time and education is a hot commodity these days. The rising cost of getting an education baffles me, as it does many others. Subsequently, this has led people to question the quality of education they receive and the way it is delivered.
This is where the open source movement comes into play. When applied to education, it creates a platform to exchange ideas and discuss best practice methods in a way that really shakes up learning as we know it. The idea of open source is not new, but in recent years it has gained more traction as an alternative to the standard route to tertiary education.
I’m only a little deep into my own open source journey, but if, like me, you’re hoping to take advantage of the myriad of options available now to try and expand your horizons, here are four things to think about before you get started.
I cannot stress how important this is. What do you want to learn, how will you do it and what do you hope to achieve. Even if your only reason for studying a certain subject is just to prove to yourself that you’re capable, that can be enough to overcome you. It has been reported that the current dropout rate of MOOCs (massive open online courses) is quite high and scholars and academics are still not quite sure what to make of it. It’s good to consider this before choosing your method, and it certainly gave me something to consider before embarking on my project. Audrey Watters’ article, which explores the growing trend in MOOC dropout rates in more detail, is worth checking out.
My motivation is purely aspirational. I’m studying math, chemistry and physics in high school because when I was little I wanted to be an astronomer. Honestly, I want to see if I can really be the physics genius I imagined in my youth, and I want to better understand a subject that fascinates me. That’s my goal, as far-fetched as it sounds. Your goal will be what motivates you to study when nothing you read seems to make sense and your self-esteem is at a low level. Because of this, it’s also a good idea to have smaller study goals and make sure you set aside time each week to put some love into your project. However, the worst thing you can do is overwhelm yourself, so take it easy but keep it consistent.
It’s all about being prepared. At what level do you want to study? Do you have a good enough foundation in the subject area to start your chosen course comfortably, or are you a complete beginner? It seems logical, and you may just need to read a little about your subject before starting your journey. Something as minor as this can be enough to put you off studying altogether as the ‘I’m not good enough’ syndrome rears its ugly head. Don’t let that discourage you. This is something I had to spend some time and research on. I knew I couldn’t sign up for certain courses as my numerical skills were clearly lacking, and other courses aimed at complete beginners would have left me frustrated. So I opted to brush up on my basic maths and science until I felt ready to take the full A level course.
Which system will you use?
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to open source options these days, so much so that it can seem a little daunting. Once you’ve narrowed down what you want to study and at what level, you can find a system that fits your wants and needs.
Another factor to consider is how you will measure your success. You will need to establish whether or not you will be taking your own exams (with past papers and assessments) or whether accreditation is part of the course you have signed up for.
MOOCs are the first port of call as they offer a good lecture package and often include assignments and continuous assessment. An important advantage is that some of the most prestigious universities introduce new courses every day, and it is a trend that does not stop growing.
Alternatively, you can choose to teach yourself entirely from textbooks and YouTube lectures, or a mix of all of the above. Which brings me to my next point…
What to use and where to get it? There are hundreds of free resources at your disposal; you just have to know where to find them. Apple recently introduced a textbook section of iBooks, and many other tablets also offer this option. Amazon.com has its own dedicated e-book store, and more and more organizations are releasing their own open source textbooks. I wrote a more detailed post about this last week on my website, which you can read here. It’s also relatively easy to get college-level lectures in audio or video format from iTunes and YouTube.
I only considered three things when looking for my study materials: cost, quality, and availability. Your budget is entirely up to you. One of the main pillars of my project is to keep costs as low as possible, so this is something I was very conscious of. The quality of the resource speaks for itself; I wanted something that explained complex ideas effortlessly, without losing merit. Also, I needed to be able to access my material in digital format as much as possible, so I didn’t have to be limited to a specific place when studying. I found that with a little research, there are some really great options out there.
If you’ve been considering trying a free course or teaching yourself on a budget, I hope this guide motivates you to give it a try. There’s a whole world of free and open learning materials out there, and you can study almost anything you want. So what will you choose?
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