November 9, 2018 11:41 pm
Updated: November 9, 2018 11:46 pm

Rising popularity of online university courses opens door to Harvard, Yale, MIT

WATCH: The surge in popularity of online courses means more universities - even very prestigious ones like Harvard and Purdue - are offering an array of courses anyone can take. Emily Mertz has more.

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Schools have been offering them for years, but a recent surge in popularity of online university classes means even the most prestigious institutions are more accessible.

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These online courses are often referred to as MOOCs — Massive Open Online Courses — through an educational platform like Coursera.

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“I think it’s really important as educators that we actually bring knowledge to the people,” said Sharon Morsink, an associate physics professor at the University of Alberta.

“And not just people who can afford to pay the tuition here — although of course that’s my job is to teach those students — but it’s really important to make sure that we educate society as a whole.”

READ MORE: 12-year-old Scottish boy completes University of Alberta’s Dino 101 course 

The University of Alberta became quite famous for one of its MOOCs called Dino 101, which it launched in 2013. Just three years later, 70,000 people had taken the university-level course, including a 12-year-old boy from Scotland.

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“When you look at who’s enrolled in the courses on Coursera, people are coming from all over the world,” Morsink said.

“There’s something like 160 different countries have been enrolled in various University of Alberta courses in Coursera and the ages span from young… to presumably as old as you can go.”

One of the perks of MOOCs is that anyone from anywhere can access these universities’ courses whenever they want. That means you could take a course at Harvard or Yale without physically being a student there.

Here are some interesting MOOCs being offered by prominent post-secondary institutions:

Some people may find themselves attracted to the prestige of completing a Princeton or Yale course might be alluring to some, Morsink admitted.

“There might be a little bit of that, in particular with the schools that everyone’s heard of like Harvard, MIT.

“When you get a course from MIT you say, ‘Hey, I’m a brainiac, right?’

“I think maybe over time, University of Alberta can start moving into that territory too. I think we’re already really well-known for everything with dinosaurs. I think we can start to become more well-known for other areas of science too.”

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One of the University of Alberta’s latest MOOCs is Astro 101, which focuses on black holes. It launched in May and about 1,000 people have signed up so far.

“The MOOCs that the University of Alberta has been putting forward have been very carefully crafted,” Morsink said.

“A lot of time and effort has been put into their design… There’s been a lot of work to make sure these are really good MOOCs.”

The Faculty of Science has created quite a few online course options, she said, including classes about dinosaurs, mountains, black holes and computing science professional programs.

“Then there’s been a number of video game-related courses also offered from Arts,” Morsink said.

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Usually, two different versions of MOOCs are offered; one is a streamlined course that’s not for credit (and sometimes free!), while the other is more comprehensive and offered for university credit (has a cost).

READ MORE: University of Alberta offers popular Dino 101 course in app form

Morsink believes the format eliminates a number of barriers for students.

“I wouldn’t want to take a course like graphic design at university because I think that might be kind of scary… maybe I wouldn’t do very well or it might be too hard, but I could say, ‘Well, maybe I could learn the fundamentals of graphic design in sort of a low-stress kind of way.’

“It is a less intimidating format.

“It’s also nice for people who have full-time jobs and don’t have time to go to lectures during regular class time… people can do it whenever they have the time.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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