Learning on your own time

Learn on your Time: Online Courses with edX, Coursera, and Udacity

In Articles by Dustin Ramsdell

Learning On Your Time

How to Learn on your Time with New Online Class Options

I have been fortunate enough to work in various university support and administration roles for the past several years; as an undergraduate student, graduate student, and now as a full-time professional. It has been a fantastically fun and transformative experience for me, but lately I’ve been starting to feel as though I’m in a rut. I’m ready for a change, perhaps into a whole new career field. I’m interested in getting into marketing, communications, writing, and/or social media, but I don’t feel like I have all the necessary skills and experiences yet to really be competitive in this field.

Wanting a more formal basis for this career shift, and not having the time to return to life as a student, I began to look into different online learning platforms. With so many options out there, I needed to determine what I specifically wanted to learn about, and what platform would be best for me.

Online Learning Platforms – edX, Coursera, and Udacity

The promise of sites like edX, Coursera, and Udacity is that you can partake in (often free) courses on all sorts of topics, (usually) on your own schedule. Think of these tools like webinars, but better in pretty much every way – and about stuff that you’re actually interested in. There are presentations, videos, and resources around specific learning outcomes and topics. The instruction is bit a longer than your typical webinar, but the end result is a wonderfully handcrafted course that teaches you about a practical skill you can use.

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Nerdy Learning

Are you a nerd or geek looking to get into a fun, creative field that you’re passionate about? A simple search on these platforms reveals courses on everything from game design to fantasy literature to superhero culture to novel writing to programming. There are even connections to colleges and universities for many of the courses that offer certified specializations. Some classes may get you credit towards a degree, if you want to pursue that.

Are you a young person trying to figure out what you want to do with yourself? Or have you been in a career and are looking for a switch later on in life? The beauty of these platforms is that it doesn’t matter! All of these online learning platforms offer a simple, accessible, and adaptable way to learn on your time, at whatever pace (and cost) you wish. You don’t have feel anxious about investing in courses, fees, or books that might not pay off.

The lack of huge investment in these platforms is an incredible disruption to the education paradigm that greatly benefits all of us geeks and nerds working towards our passions.

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The Alternative Education Experience

As someone who works at an institution of higher learning, I am, perhaps counter-intuitively, very supportive of these online learning platforms. They help bring learning to more people in the world, which is what I hope to help foster in my own way. It’s why I got into education in the first place. These services embody the values I wish more higher education institutions would work towards. They limit financial risk, focus on the content, and create courses on what users want. A typical course takes only several hours to complete, so you could easily be on your way to a certificate or college credit within a month’s time.

While the experience of going to a college campus is uniquely beneficial, not everyone can spend the time or money investing in that experience. Also, the need for specific college degrees as credentials for entering a particular field is diminishing. In some fields, job seekers now just need to be able to prove they can do the work, through a portfolio of work or exhibition of specific skills. Sitting in a classroom learning about how to do these things isn’t necessarily preferred. Online learning platforms can get you engaged in the topics you want to learn about, and won’t waste time with anything else.

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Low-Risk and Available Anytime

What my exploration of these platforms has encouraged is that it’s never too late to follow your dreams and start working in a career you love. While these online learning platforms will certainly not be the end of that journey of growth and change, they can absolutely be a strong start. The best part is you have nothing to lose by checking these sites out and diving into a course. They’re low-risk and are available anytime you are ready to engage.

I personally very much look forward to getting involved with some of these platforms myself. I hope the experience is positive for any and all of you who choose to get involved as well.

About the Author

Dustin Ramsdell


Dustin is a recent graduate of the Rutgers University College Student Affairs Ed.M Program. He also is an alumni of University of Delaware, and currently works at Husson University in Maine. He is a proud nerd and self-affirmed "Higher Ed Geek" who is excited to connect with folks who share his love of deep conversations about anything geeky! Find him on Twitter, or at his own blog.