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Start your online education at no cost to you

By Cody Grant
On January 31, 2012


Last year Sebastian Thrun, a research professor at Stanford University and Google fellow, taught more than 160,000 students with one class. 

That's no typo. Thrun decided to make his Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford available online – for free – and the people responded. Students signed on from 190 countries all over the world.

Since then, Thrun has left Stanford to create his own free, online school to focus on computer science and programming. The site, known as Udacity, will feature him and lauded Prof. David Evans from the University of Virginia.

I signed up for one of the two classes the professors have set up for this ‘semester' that begins Feb. 20. The class is called CS 101: Building a Search Engine, and for the first time in my life, I'm excited to learn online.

Sure, I've taken online courses through UDM, but only because I couldn't make room in my schedule to attend the classes in person. It wasn't because I wanted to.

As I understand it, there are a lot of classes one takes in his or her undergrad education because the classes are required for graduation. That's fine. And while I have problems with that as well, it is not the subject of this editorial.

What I am suggesting is that we are living in a world that will eventually no longer require students to pay for elective courses.

As tuition debt grows every year, why should students use the finite funds to pay for classes that simply fill up credits on their degree requirements sheet?

Note: I am not suggesting that students should not spend time learning subjects about which they are curious. I just think that, in concert with many of the developing countries of the world, American citizens should complement their educations with what is available to them online.

If you are uniformed about this whole online education movement, the first place you should go is to  It is a website that offers video instruction (for free) on myriad subjects – from algebra to venture capital and investing.

All videos allow for self-paced learning. By creating a login account, students have access to seeing their own progress by way of achievements for each subject.

Personally, I have used Khan Academy as a way to stay interested and informed about art history. Before I came to UDM, I was an art history major but have had to leave that behind in order to get through my undergraduate degree without incurring even more debt.

  For those more interested in technology and programming, there are even more options to learn online. In addition to the new Udacity, there is the The New Boston, Higher Computing for Everyone (by Carl H) and even The Codecademy, which presents users with Foursquare-like badges for completing certain lessons.

Is media arts more your thing? There are numerous Photoshop, After Effects and Pro Tools tutorials you can find via any search engine – all for free.

Of course, one thing with online education is to be aware of your instructors and their credentials. But considering the fact that you are using these sources for elective education, your first priority should be to simply learn as much as you can.

It may be years before this way of learning reaches the masses in Western culture, but it has already proven invaluable to much of the globe without the same resources for education. 

And, who knows, perhaps Thrun's new school will shake up college learning in America. If so, you may just want to go ahead and enroll now so you can tell everyone you were an early adopter.


Grant is VN campus life editor.

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