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How Indian Women Can Benefit From Free Online Courses

Posted: December 30, 2013

MOOCs offer Indian women a whole new world waiting to be explored! Read on for all the dope on free online courses in India.

By Shruthi Rao

A couple of years ago, I was searching the web for free online courses in India. That is when the world of MOOCs opened up to me, making me breathless with excitement. Are these for real?

What are MOOCs?

MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, are free, short-term, online courses offered by major universities across the world. They are aimed at bringing education to the masses. Anyone anywhere in the world with access to the internet can take these courses. With most courses being taught by stalwarts in their respective fields, MOOCs are a quality educational experience.

How do MOOCs work?

Once you sign up for a course, you’ll receive learning material, and one set of lectures per week. There are self-assessments and assignments each week, and examinations that test your learning. If you fulfil all the requirements of the course, you’ll receive a certificate at the end. Some courses offer an identity-verified certificate for a small fee. You’ll need to spend less than 5-6 hours a week on the lectures and assignments. It might seems like a lot of time, but since each lecture is very short, you can easily fit them in here and there into your regular work-week. If you sign up but cannot continue for any reason, you can un-enroll at any time.

Where can I take a MOOC?

Currently, the main players are CourseraedX and UdacityIversity is a new entrant. Coursera has the largest number of courses. edX is Harvard and MIT-based, and so far, its focus has largely been on technical courses. In Udacity, you can take the courses at your own pace. But for people like me, a time-bound course with deadlines for assignments like in Coursera and edX is more conducive. Besides, since many people take the course at the same time, you can benefit from discussions in the forums. You can google for more courses and platforms – there are plenty.

What do you like best about MOOCs?

The professors are extraordinary, the lectures excellent, and easy to fit into my workday. The sites are user-friendly. I can download videos to watch later. If I doze off in the middle of a lecture, I can replay the video. If I don’t understand the lecturer’s accent, I can opt for subtitles. If I think the pace of the lectures isn’t alright, I can vary the speed of the video.

Why did you say it was good for women?

Hanging around the discussion forums (which, by the way, is one of the greatest part of these courses – you get in touch with people from all over the world, and learn so much!), I observed that a great number of women take these courses, and realized how MOOCs are benefiting women all over the world. There was this elderly lady from a remote place who’d never had the opportunity for education, and now it’s like she has stumbled into Aladdin’s cave! I “met” new mothers, who listen to lectures and do assignments when their babies nap – this way, they stay intellectually stimulated and connected to the world in the midst of all the mind-numbing repetitive work that goes into looking after small children. I met women homebound for various reasons, but are still able to “go out into the world” via these courses. There were busy professionals who needed to take courses to augment their careers, but they had no time, what with children and housework taking up whatever free time they had – they find MOOCs eminently doable – they slip the lectures into their lunch breaks or their children’s playtime, or they postpone bedtime for a few minutes – and they are able to complete the courses!

MOOCs can be a wonderful thing for Indian women. With computers and broadband so widespread now, Indian women with an urge to learn can easily take these courses. It is great, all the more because of its flexibility, ease, and the convenience with which you can fit these courses into a seemingly packed day.

Of what use is a MOOC to me?

Apart from people who take MOOCs for personal enrichment, and to get to know more about the world, taking a MOOC can be of great help to professionals, and women who are on a break from work.

If you are a professional, you can utilize these courses to stay tuned to the latest developments in your field. Being abreast of advancements can give you an edge over your peers, in environments where changes happen really fast. Some courses can be of use to you in tangential ways. An engineer, set to take on a managerial position, can benefit from mangement courses, and conversely, a manager who has just been appointed in charge of a technical group can acquaint herself with the technology that group works with. These courses could also aid in understanding clients, markets and potential businesses. Also, you can benefit professionally from the multitude of courses on creativity, design, logic and reasoning, and even public speaking! And you can use MOOCs to explore possible career paths, and to get acquainted with potential avenues of work.

Women on a career break for reasons such as mothering or caring for a family member can benefit from MOOCs too. They can take courses to keep their skills sharp and honed. In the fast-changing environment of today, a career break can set you back. Taking courses that help you stay in touch with developments in your field can be a great way to avoid falling out of touch with your work and career. You can also put these courses on your resume when you go back to seek work – it will show that you haven’t been whiling away time on your break! In case you want to explore other career opportunities, these short term courses can give you a fairly good idea what is in store for you, and you can make an informed decision when it’s time to make a choice.

These are of course, just a few examples – there’s something for everybody!

We are privileged to live in a time where we can get the best education from the best professors from the best universities – all of this from the comfort of our homes – for free! Can it get better than this?

*Photo credit: Victor1558 (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

Shruthi Rao is a writer and editor.

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