Many online learning platforms have responded to the closings of schools and universities during the coronavirus pandemic by expanding their offerings and giving free access to courses. As a service to readers that will endure beyond the pandemic, Al-Fanar Media offers here a guide to some of the more popular platforms in use by educational institutions, organizations and individual learners.
Our emphasis is on courses of interest to students of university age and adults, and also on lower cost e-learning or free offerings, such as MOOCs (massive open online courses), particularly those available in Arabic. We will eventually give readers the opportunity to review each platform in the hope of allowing students to share their learning experience in online classrooms and in online training, so other potential students can better judge if a set of courses is suitable for them.
A number of online platforms offer college-level and general interest courses online, and others offer specialized instruction for students or workers in particular fields, such as the creative arts or humanitarian work. We want to hear from readers about what they are looking for and what features they would find most useful as we build this resource out. Use the comments field at the bottom of this article or write to [email protected]. We also want to note that two platforms, Udemy and Coursera, are blocked in Syria due to U.S. sanctions.
Coursera has been one of the most popular platforms for online learning for nearly a decade, offering thousands of online courses that anyone can enroll in free of charge. It also offers 17 online degrees and nearly two dozen programs leading to certificates in various fields.
Last year the company added a new subscription-based platform for universities called Coursera for Campus that allows member institutions to incorporate Coursera courses into their own degree programs.
The company recently announced that it will make Coursera for Campus free to higher-education institutions that have been affected by the coronavirus. The offer is valid worldwide except in countries where Coursera is prohibited from doing business under U.S. export controls.
“Universities can sign up to provide their enrolled students with access to more than 3,800 courses and 400 specializations from Coursera’s top university and industry partners,” the company’s chief executive, Jeff Maggioncalda, said in a blog post. The free access for universities will last through the end of July, he said, and students who enroll in Coursera courses on or before July 31 will retain access through September 30.
Coursera was established in 2012 by two Stanford University professors, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller.
FutureLearn was founded in 2012 by the Open University in collaboration with other universities in the United Kingdom as a platform for online courses. Similar to Coursera, it now offers courses, programs and online degrees from more than 80 partner institutions around the world.
The platform is a for-profit business, but many of the courses it offers are free to students who want just the course, not a credential.
In response to global concerns over the novel coronavirus and Covid-19, the disease it causes, FutureLearn recently added two new courses.
One, “How to Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students,” is taught by FutureLearn’s own experts and is designed to help educators who have to rapidly move a course from face-to-face to online teaching.
The other, “COVID-19: Tackling the Novel Coronavirus,” was developed by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and provides basic information on the virus and how it spreads. Both of these courses are free.A related course, “Managing COVID-19 in General Practice,” developed by St George’s, University of London, is available free for four weeks: Those who want more time to take the course or who want a certificate of completion pay $44.
EdX is a nonprofit organization founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in 2012. It offers more than 3,000 online courses in dozens of subjects that are provided by more than 140 universities and corporations. Students can view most edX courses free by enrolling as an auditor, but if they want access to graded assignments and to obtain a verified course-completion certificate, they’ll have to pay a fee.
Besides individual courses, Edx offers complete online degrees and modules that are parts of degrees, which students can take for academic credit. It also offers professional skills courses that lead to a certificate. All of these options have tuition costs.
Like Coursera and FutureLearn, EdX has recently expanded free access in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. It has launched a Remote Access Program that gives students at participating universities free access to courses and programs from all edX partners, not just those of their own universities.
“We established the program with a simple goal: harness the power of our network and our online learning platform to help universities help students impacted by the pandemic,” Anant Agarwal, edX’s founder and chief executive, said in a blog post.
Kaya is a free, global online learning platform specifically designed to provide courses for those working in the humanitarian sector. It offers both online and in-person learning opportunities relating to a broad range of topics, from the essentials of humanitarian work to technical and programmatic areas, as well as personal and professional development tools. The full course catalogue is here, and users can find out more about the platform here.
Kaya was created by the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that is part of Save the Children, a charity registered in the United Kingdom. The leadership academy’s mission is to train aid workers to prepare for and respond to crises in their own countries. With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Kaya published new training courses related to the virus and the disease it causes, Covid-19, and to public health in general.
Kaya is available in Arabic, English, French and Spanish.
Course lengths vary from a few hours to a few weeks, and some offer certificates directly from Kaya.
Kaya is responsive both on computers and mobile devices. A mobile app allows users to download courses so they can continue learning even without an Internet connection, and then upload their progress to their profile once they re-connect to the Internet.
Skillshare is an online “learning community” that offers thousands of courses for people who want to acquire new skills or hone existing ones in creative fields like design, writing, illustration, film and photography. It also offers classes in related business and technology topics, like marketing and web development.
Skillshare is a company based in New York. It is not affiliated with any colleges and does not offer any academic credits or course-completion certificates. Its classes focus on teaching practical skills that help students advance in their careers or master a particular topic.
Anyone who believes they have expertise in a topic can create a class on Skillshare. There is no application or approval process for teachers, and potential students should be aware of that. Class creators include both professionals and amateurs. Skillshare describes its teachers as “everyday creators, entrepreneurs, and professionals who are passionate about what they do,” but also advises that no teaching experience is required to start a class.
Skillshare has a free level, a premium membership, and teams accounts. The free version lets students watch selected video classes and see related content on both the web and mobile apps. A premium membership costs $15 a month or $99 a year. It removes ads, unlocks the entire catalog of courses, and lets subscribers download classes to the Skillshare mobile app to watch offline. Team plans are for businesses and work groups of various sizes.
In response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Skillshare recently announced new support initiatives for community members, including two months of free access for those with .edu and .k12 email addresses, and a limited number of other two-month free memberships based on need.
“We hope that our classes, content, and community workshops can help us all feel a little more connected to ourselves and each other—and make it easy to learn skills in the comfort of our homes,” the company wrote in a blog post.
Edraak is a nonprofit learning platform that provides free online courses in Arabic. Launched in 2014 as an initiative of the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development, in Jordan, Edraak has worked in partnership with the Harvard-MIT consortium edX and seeks to make quality education in Arabic accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.
Edraak offers courses on two platforms: Continuous Learning, for adults, and K–12 Education, with resources for teachers, parents and school-age learners. Courses on the K-12 platform are designed to align with curricula across the Middle East and North Africa region.
The nonprofit Khan Academy started out in 2008 as a series of tutoring videos that Salman Khan, then a young hedge-fund analyst, put on YouTube to help young cousins who were struggling with mathematics.
Today, the popular online learning site offers 10,000 classes for students in every grade and in most major subject areas, including math, science, computer programming, grammar, history, art history, economics and more.
More than 18 million learners worldwide use the site each month, studying in more than 40 languages, including Arabic. The site also has educational materials to support teachers, tutors and parents, and it offers free test-preparation lessons for the SAT and nearly a dozen other high-stakes tests used in college and graduate school admissions.
In response to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the widespread closures of schools, the academy recently created suggested schedules to help parents and teachers ensure that students keep learning at home. The schedules include online and offline activities.
“We started with the idea that parents are overwhelmed right now,” Salman Khan, himself the father of three homebound pupils, told Forbes magazine. “There are one billion children around the world who are suddenly out of school,” he said. “We’re a stopgap.”
Rwaq—The Arab Open Education Platform, based in Saudi Arabia, was established to provide free, high-quality academic study materials in Arabic in a wide variety of fields and disciplines, provided by distinguished academics from all over the Arab world.
The platform is geared toward all types of learners, including university students seeking to develop knowledge in their area of specialization, employees eager to explore a new discipline, and people who simply enjoy learning on their own.
The company believes in the value of open, online courses like those offered by Coursera and edX, and seeks to make Rwaq a model for applying this approach in the Arab world. But it wants to go beyond just translating materials from Coursera into Arabic.
“We believe that the Arab world deserves its own educational platform in which Arabic speakers meet with Arab scientific and practical competencies to address them with their Arab tongue directly without the need for translation,” the company writes on its website.
Local expertise is the missing ingredient that Rwaq hopes to provide, one of its founders, Fouad Al-Farhan, told the Wamda platform for entrepreneurs in 2013. The skills that entrepreneurs need in the Arab world, and the legal and practical matters they must consider, “are completely different here,” he said. “We need content that relates to this market.”
Rwaq provides “unofficial” certificates upon completion of some courses, explaining that official certificates can only be awarded by an accredited academic body in Saudi Arabia. “We hope that we will soon reach the appropriate legal status to be able to issue this type of certification,” it states.
The platform invites university professors and others with expertise in a subject to create courses, and it offers support for course builders. It also allows universities, scientific societies and other educational organizations to become academic partners with a page of their own on the platform.
Rwaq was founded as a joint venture between Al-Farhan (Twitter, LinkedIn), who was previously a prominent blogger and human-rights advocate in Saudi Arabia, and his friend Sami Al-Hussain (Twitter, LinkedIn), a computer engineer.
While Al-Farhan stopped blogging after founding Rwaq, he was nevertheless among a group of intellectuals and journalists who were arrested on unspecified charges in November in a continuing crackdown by Saudi authorities on perceived critics of the government, Bloomberg reported. He has since been released.
Hsoub Academy is an educational division of the company Hsoub, which offers Internet-based services for Arabic speaking users. Founded in 2001, Hsoub operates the largest two Arabic freelancing platforms and the largest ad network in the Middle East and North Africa, among other businesses.
Its Hsoub Academy provides comprehensive online courses in topics like programming and building web and mobile applications. Students who enroll in a course start from scratch and go step by step to acquire proficiency in a particular skill.
Students can earn a certificate of completion, and the company promises that students who successfully complete a course can get a refund if they do not find a job or freelance work within six months.
Udemy is a platform for online learning where anyone can build a course. The company describes itself as a marketplace bringing together people with expertise in a topic and people who want to learn about that topic.
Classes on Udemy are mainly practical and job-related rather than academic, though students can find courses that expand their knowledge of an academic subject.
As a virtual classroom that allows anyone to teach, the quality of the courses cannot always compete with those provided by universities on platforms like edX and Coursera. On the plus side, many Udemy course creators are in fact professors, graduate students or professionals who are experts in their field.
For a time, Udemy recruited professors to create free courses for an area of its website called The Faculty Project, but the page is no longer promoted and currently lists only eight courses, most of which offer six to 12 hours of instruction and consist of 15 to 30 video lectures.
Where Udemy wins praise is in the number and variety of courses it provides—it has more than 100,000, according to its website.
“We imagined a world where anyone could learn anything—from any expert in the world,” co-founder Eren Bali says in a blog post.
The idea behind Udemy was born of Bali’s on experience of growing up in a small village in Turkey and having to look online for learning opportunities beyond what was available in his one-room school. He and co-founders Oktay Caglar and Gagan Biyani launched Udemy in California’s Silicon Valley in 2010.
Most courses are taught in English, though some are available in other languages as well, including Arabic. These can be difficult to find, however.
Hala Mkhallalati contributed research for this article.
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