The State of Online Education

All learning circles come together around a common interest, supported by some free learning materials (usually an online course). The quality of free, online learning materials is a mixed bag, to say the least, so in this section we’ll outline some ways to search for high quality online courses, even if you aren’t an expert on the topic.

You can use any course you want to run a learning circle, so long as it is free for the participants. It’s worth noting, however, that online courses come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Here’s an overview of the types of online courses that we typically use in learning circles:

Open Educational Resources (OER)

OER is broadly defined as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others”. We always favor OER, because not only is it free to reuse whenever you want, but because you can retain, revise, remix, and redistribute it. These “5 Rs of OER” signify a deep philosophical difference from proprietary vendors as to the nature and construction of knowledge. There are a number of organizations that are committed to opening knowledge, all of which maintain free online courses that are always available:

Free online courses

There are a variety of organizations who run businesses (or at least try to) by offering free learning materials to the public. Sometimes these organizations are backed by universities (like edX and Coursera), sometimes they are non-profit organizations (like Khan Academy), sometimes they are for-profit businesses (like Udacity), and sometimes they are publicly funded (like USA Learns). While the quality of these courses for learning circles is often good, there is a risk that these courses might not always be around, as they sometimes get taken offline or put behind paywalls. Still, the vast majority of learning circles that have been run come from this category:

Proprietary Vendors

Next, there are a variety of course providers who charge licensing fees to access their materials. While we don’t allow for learning circles to charge money for participants, oftentimes libraries and school systems will have existing contracts with these vendors, and in this case, it’s fine to run them as a learning circle. Commons examples include:

Further Reading

Still curious? There are many other ways you can pull together resources for a learning circle, including curating information from large repositories like Wikipedia and Youtube and remixing open textbooks. For some more insight, check out P2PU’s list of edtech resources and read more about our views of the current state of online education. If you’re ever interested in creating your own open online course, we can help with that too.

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