Never before has been easier for people to improve their educational prospects that it is today. The number of resources, many of them free, are being offered online at a remarkable rate. You can literally get a quality university education, seeing the same lectures as those attending the university, while you sit comfortably in front of your computer screen in your pajamas.
Among the early leaders in this field is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who has been offering free courses for some years now, recently decided to allow free access many of their courses. This is a bit of a good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that you can take all the courses for free, the bad news is you won’t earn a degree for all your hard work. However, if you are more interested in learning the material than in earning the degree, this may be just the tool for you.
Scott Young had already earned a degree in business when he decided he really wanted an education in computer engineering to go with it. He looked at the free courses at MIT, courses notorious for their difficulty, and assembled the right mix for the equivalent of a degree in computer science. While the courses were free, the books were not as he ended up spending about $2,000 on study material. However, he learned that the online format worked well for him and he is now on track to earn a four year degree in computer science in about twelve months.
Speaking of books, Josh Kaufman has developed a learning system that relies heavily on books. After spending nearly $200,000 on a quality MBA, he realized that everything he learned at business school was readily available in books you can pick up at your local Barnes and Noble. He took his concept a step further and assemble a list of books for people who wanted the equivalent of an MBA education and called it the “Personal MBA.” His original list of 60 books has expanded to a list of 99 books, but if Josh is right, and a lot of big names in the business world say he is, then it’s a bargain at about 1/100th the cost of the same education at an Ivy League School. (Note: I have personally read many of the books on the Personal MBA list and can attest to their remarkable quality and depth. Even if you don’t want to pursue the whole virtual degree, the list is a great place to look for your next business book read.)
So what if your aims are a bit more modest; you don’t want the equivalent of a degree, you just want to learn a new skill or two? Again, the options are numerous and among the best is Udemy. They offer thousands of courses in everything from arts and hobbies, education, foreign languages and business. Many, though not all, are free. Still, even the paid courses compare very favorably against the cost of the same course at a university, and they can be studied from the comfort of your home.
Not to be outdone, Harvard recently teamed up with MIT to create edX, a joint agreement that would allow students to take courses at both schools free of charge. As news of the partnership has grown, so has the list of schools eager to join the endeavor. The two founding schools have now been joined by Berkley, University of Texas, Georgetown, University of Toronto, Australian National University and Ecole Ploytechnique Federale de Lausanne. Stanford is also offering similar course as are many other major universities. At a time when the price of a college degree is going up at an alarming rate, the price of a college education has dropped to the cost of books alone.
Is pursuing this kid of education right for you? That depends a great deal on what your aims are. Some careers require time in a classroom with a degree to show for it, but many do not. If your interest is primarily in acquiring the information, then choosing one of these routes may be just the ticket. Most experts agree that while a good teacher can make a significant difference, all real learning is essentially self-learning. Even if you do pay for the brick and mortar education, you can’t expect a lot of hand-holding; you are going to have to learn this stuff yourself. Borrow a page from Scott Young’s career and plot out your own course list for your own virtual degree. You may not have the sheepskin to show for it, but you will have the same quality education.
Can you use this kind of training on your resume? Some of the students who have followed the Personal MBA path have said they have listed it on their resume and it has been effective. They quickly explain that it is not an official university degree and then explain what the program entails. They say the response has been overwhelmingly positive. As a potential employer, you have to respect someone who takes the initiative to read nearly a hundred books on their own to further their education. The same could be said of those who take four year’s worth of courses from MIT in twelve months.