Free Online Alternatives to College, Part 1
by James L. Carey
This is the first part in my two part series about online learning. In this post, I’ll just tackle the concept of online learning itself.
Why would I choose to take free courses online versus “real” college?
Great question. How about….
Learn at your own pace, in your own space. The traditional model of the seasonal semester is a one-size-fits-all hat that doesn’t fit most people. If you want to take a year to leisurely learn about a subject or speed through a section a month, that should be up to you. Have kids, a job, a life? Then your education should conform to your needs, not the other way around. The internet is also everywhere and available whenever you are ready to learn. No commuting.
Focused learning. Let people learn about what they are actually interested in rather than what another person thinks they should be learning about and they’ll be much more engaged, learn faster, and retain more. In a traditional bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, most degree programs require students to take between 10 – 30 credit hours of electives, or non-degree related courses.
To put that into perspective, a student may just be trying to get a degree in Biology and their university says they have to put a substantial portion of their time and money into Spanish or Art History or…Bowling. Amazingly enough, my own esteemed alma mater Michigan State University literally has substantially-sized educationally-worthless classes every semester in Bowling and other pointless subjects in which students rack up debt to the tune of $1500 to $2000 a semester to take useless classes to fulfill purposeless elective requirements. Don’t get me wrong, I love bowling, but for that money I could go bowling every fucking day for months and it still wouldn’t cost me that much.
People who learn online also learn better. According to a 2009 meta study from the Department of Education: “Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.” Not surprising when you take into account that these days most college classes are like going to your local mega-theater on the opening day of the latest superhero movie and somehow trying to take notes inbetween people’s phones going off, laptop screens distracting you and the general uninterested demeanor of everyone involved, including the teacher.
Degrees are now a far second to real world experience. Pull up any job posting site these days and more than any other qualification in demand by employers these days is actual experience in a similar role rather than an educational credential. Sure, they’ll put a bachelor’s is required because that’s what employers have done for decades, but they’ll drop all the pretenses if they see someone who has already done the job. They have the biggest hiring pool in history to choose from, they’re going to pick someone who is as close as possible to running as soon as their feet hit the ground. What that means is that you should be spending a lot less of your time on traditional education and a lot more of your time learning the specific field you want to go into, learning the relevant skillset, and leveraging that into a real world position rather than chasing a piece of paper.
A lot of people seem to think that because there are so many unemployed Bachelor’s degree holders these days that it means they have to now get a Master’s degree to be competitive. No. Wrong. It means you need to focus your course of study, not spend more time studying. I personally know a lot of Master’s degree holders and the only job it has helped any of them get is Teaching, which is great, but none of them started out wanted to be a teacher, they just fell into it because they had the experience and were in the right network. Two key points you should think about: EXPERIENCE, NETWORK. Remember those.
If you show me a bar graph your academic advisor gave you showing the salary expectations for those with accredited degrees and those without, I will punch you in the face. Then I will laugh. Go and look up the top 50 businesspeople in the country and then tell me which ones have traditional degrees. I bet far less than half have a degree credit to their name.
The cost of education bubble has arrived. For GOOD. Higher education costs have ballooned over 600% in the past 25 years, far in excess of the rate of reasonable inflation. The reasons are debatable, but the result is not, getting a higher degree from a traditional four year university these days is akin to signing yourself up to being in debt for at least the next decade of your life. The economy sucks, the job market sucks, and it may be about to rebound, but this is NOT the time to go into debt for anything. ANYTHING.
Did you get that part? Let me say it again: DON’T GO INTO DEBT FOR ANYTHING. That’s a habit we all need to break RIGHT NOW.
Instead focus your energy into learning about what you’re interested in, in the cheapest way possible and in getting your fingers dirty as fast as humanly possible. Obviously this doesn’t work for every field, Medicine for one, you guys can go to class, but everyone else needs to get real and get free. That’s what college was created for originally, doctors and lawyers. Everyone else just learned it on their own. You want to go into Business? You know what’s an amazing way to get into that field? START A BUSINESS. Anything, get a food cart, start a lawn mowing service. I can guarantee your experience in three months will be worth a full year at any fancy book learnin’ university.
In my next post I’ll show you some fantastic ways to learn about a million and one subjects and all for free.