Education has been a hotly discussed topic over the last few weeks and it is indeed a concern that lies on the hearts of many Ghanaians looking to improve themselves. The Internet has long-provided an excellent avenue for people to educate themselves on different topics. Unfortunately, the vast amount of information available on the web has usually been scattered and difficult to find.
This has changed with the rise of Google and even more so in recent years with the rise of web education services which deliver courses on various subjects online. These services first appeared as official extensions of universities who would allow students to continue pursuing a degree online. However, many free services have now appeared which pursue mass education apart from a profit motive. These services use a mix of video tutorials, text materials, and interactive tests to teach subject material. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
Coursera partners with several educational institutions to offer free courses to people around the world. Courses cover subject areas such as the Humanities, Medicine, Biology, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Business, Computer Science, among others. Instruction is through short video lecture segments interspersed with interactive exercises. These happens for all units in a syllabus. Testing is through weekly assignments and exams. All of these are taken online and do not require any physical movement.
For a small fee, Coursera provides official certification for a course taken and completed. In my experience Coursera’s course structure was easy to understand and lectures were easy to follow. The longer nature of some of their video segments may provide difficulty to those with slower connections but otherwise it is a solid platform to use.
edX is a similar service begun as a not-for-profit initiative by M.I.T. And Harvard University. Georgetown University, Wellesley College, the University of Texas and the University of California at Berkeley have sine joined the initiative. EdX launched in October 2012 and thus only has a limited number of online courses on offer at the moment. The courses currently available mostly center around computer science disciplines as well as one on solid-state chemistry and another in public-health.
I found the edX system to be simple and yet easily understandable. Documentation on course materials was made easily available and the video lecture sequences were easy to follow. I found that the relatively short times for each video segment in a unit (~5mins) made them easier to follow alongside the use of subtitles. Course material is also sufficiently challenging and at a high enough level.
Certification is provided by edX upon successful completion of any course.
The Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org)
This web education service is perhaps the oldest and best-known of online services. Started in 2006 by Harvard and MIT graduate Salman Khan, this service has proved massively popular due to its use of video tutorials to teach a range of subjects. The Khan Academy currently has over 3,600 videos available and has delivered over 200 million lessons since its inception. It has perhaps the widest course offering of any of the services and offers lessons in a range of subject areas from matehmatics to medicine to organic chemistry.
I found Codecademy a simple and direct service to use though that simplicity at times has its drawbacks. Codecademy focuses purely on practical learning and makes it simple to begin and do so. The material is taught through an interactive programming interface that focuses on you directly trying out new methods. This is great for those who wish to dive straight into actual coding but it’s inadvisable for complete beginners. This is because its focus on pure code will leave learners lacking knowledge of theoretical concepts such as data structures and algorithm design as well as a thorough understanding of computers themselves and how they function.
I would thus place Codecademy at an intermediate level. Not for complete beginners but for those with a solid understanding of computing to learn a programming language and beginning to code.
Take Up The Challenge
Learning through any of these websites is easy and has been made intentionally so. Millions around the world have already taken advantage of these institutions to broaden their knowledge and teach themselves new skills to advance their careers.
The Information Age is aptly named as the rise of the Internet has meant that information that was previously restricted to expensive educational institutions is now available to anyone anywhere. I encourage Ghanaians to take advantage of some of the services above as they will find that quality, free education in the area they desire is only a mouse click away.
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