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Bill Murray Learned to Speak French, Play Piano, AND Carve Ice Sculptures!

Feeling like you're waking up every day to "I Got You Babe" on a clock radio? Maybe it's time to consider free online learning.

By Nikki Steingold

Nikki Steingold joined the iRelaunch team in 2011 as Director of Marketing and retired in 2020 as Chief Marketing Officer. During her nearly 10-year tenure at iRelaunch she built the iRelaunch Return to Work Roadmap based on Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin's bestselling book, "Back on the Career Track" (affiliate link) and conceived and lead the development of the award-winning "3, 2, 1 iRelaunch" podcast series. Nikki currently provides pro bono marketing experience for non-profits through Catchafire and is founder of the popular blog "Not Yet Dead."

If you’ve watched 'Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray, you're probably feeling a lot like weatherman Phil Conners (Murray) who visits Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day festivities only to find himself trapped in a time loop. After a few reckless adventures, Phil eventually decides to use his knowledge of the events of the day to help others - and along the way he takes classes, learns new skills, and essentially prepares himself for his "relaunch."

You may still be in the reckless phase of your COVID-19 Groundhog Day time loop - enjoying the all-day PJ parties, binge-watching "Friends," and searching for recipes that can somehow include the semi-sweet chocolate chips and that old bag of noodles that you have on your shelf.

But if you've passed that phase and have decided to come out of this loop a little bit smarter, a little bit more prepared for your relaunch (or fluent in French), we have some free resources just for you.
Welcome to a land of digital-learning opportunity!

The genesis of online learning

“Distance” learning, using technology to deliver courses, has been around for a fairly long time. As early as 1976 the first virtual campus, Coastline Community College, began offering its degree program entirely through telecommuting courses, also known as telecourses (using telephone, television, radio, records, and tapes).

In 1981, long before there was an Internet, Western Behavioral Sciences Institute offered a series of programs that pioneered the use of teleconferencing. WBSI's School of Management and Strategic Studies was the very first program to employ online distance education through the Electronic Information Exchange System (EIES), an early online conferencing bulletin board system,.

Fast forward to the “Information Age” and 1991 when the World Wide Web (WWW) opened to the public, tack on the 1998 addition of the Google search engine, and you online education as we know it today was born. Now, depending on your educational goals, you now have an almost endless choice of online learning opportunities, ranging from free hobbyist information on topics of your choice (just do a Google search, et voila!) to full online degree programs (which can run into more than $100K), and everything in between.

Which brings us to MOOCs

Typically originating at universities, the first MOOC (“Massive Open Online Courses” offered to thousands free of charge) to be very successful was the course "Artificial Intelligence" by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig from Stanford University in the fall of 2011. More than 160,000 people around the world signed up to learn jointly, the first time in history that a course was provided to so many students.

By the end of 2019, more than 13,000 MOOCs had been announced or launched by over 900 universities around the world. In 2019 alone, more than 2,000 courses were launched by 450 universities. These partnerships with top universities to develop MOOCs, where students learn from distinguished professors, adds to MOOCs' legitimacy, experts say. Although the courses originate at the university level, they are usually distributed by course providers such as Coursera, EdX, and Udacity.

How have MOOCs changed?

Historically, free MOOCs typically included video lessons, assigned reading, assessments and discussion forums. When you “audit” a MOOC in this manner, you aren’t paying and anyone can enroll, even if you’re not “qualified” to take the course, and you can stop at any time without formal consequences.

Now some classes that are still referred to as MOOCs offer a paid enrollment option that gives you access to all the content, including paywalled elements such as the verified certificates of completion.
Daphne Koller, president and co-founder of Coursera, told U.S. News recently, "We see a larger and larger number of our learners, especially in courses that confer direct benefits – for instance, to one's career – opting to pay for the certificate.” Along with a credential, students who pay for MOOCs often gain access to extra features. In many of Coursera's career-related MOOCs, for example, students might receive additional feedback from instructors, and sometimes access to supplemental readings and assessments.

COVID-19 opens access to more classes and opportunities

With the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in unprecedented isolation, many providers are offering even more free courses using the MOOC model. Not only that, many courses that previously charged for certificates are now offering them free - Coursera just announced free certificates for 115 courses.

In addition, Coursera, edX, and Udacity also offer financial aid and scholarships for certificate programs. To apply, click here for financial aid information from Coursera, edX, or Udacity.

So what should you take and where can you find it?

You’ll find that just about every subject you can imagine is available in a MOOC-like online learning setting. You may want to audit the Berklee College of Music’s “Music for Wellness” course - or you might want to enroll in edX’s MicroMasters program “a series of graduate level courses from top universities designed to advance your career (with) deep learning in a specific career field (and) recognized by employers for their real job relevance.” The fact is, there are more 13,000 online courses to choose from.

So how do you decide? We’ve looked at many lists of online courses and have found that Class Central’s platform is the most unbiased, easy to use, and thorough. Class Central aggregates courses from many providers (including edX, Coursera, and Udacity) to make it easy to find the best courses on almost any subject, wherever they exist. Focusing primarily on free (or free to audit) courses from universities and offered through massive open online course (MOOC) platforms, you can find courses, review courses you’ve taken (and read other people’s reviews), follow universities, subjects and courses to receive personalized updates, and plan and track your learning. They also publish the MOOCReport featuring “analysis and reporting that looks across the landscape of online learning” as well as several lists including “Free Online Learning Due to Coronavirus (Updated Continuously)” and “Free Online Ivy League Courses.”

(Class Central is transparent about how they are funded: through advertising and affiliate links. They clearly denote ads and sponsored search results, and their affiliate and advertising relationships don’t influence the course listing, nor do they affect user reviews.)

Happy Learning

I’d love to hear about your experiences with these online learning models. If you have a story to share, please write to us at, but be sure to reference this blog when you do!

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