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Iversity

Want to learn about contemporary architecture, political philosophy or dark matter? What about storytelling, finance or DNA? If you're looking to start a new career, develop your professional skills or are simply interested in learning something new, online education can provide access to expert tuition and the chance to interact with thousands of people from across the world. One such institution is iversity, which is Europes leading platform for what's called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Created by a multi-disciplinary team based in Berlin, iversity offers a range of courses conducted over a semester that can be accessed online for free.

How do the courses work?

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The basic iversity structure works through the posting of instructional videos, supplementary material and a discussion forum. Each week (for about ten weeks), a new chapter is released comprising several units. Theres a video to watch, a quick quiz to complete and a related question, which can be answered through the forum. Students can post comments and questions related to each unit. There is also assigned homework and assignments which are marked. A certificate is awarded at the end to those who meet the criteria.

Make no mistake, these are university-level courses taught by international professors who are expert practitioners in their fields and experienced academics. As such, the courses are rigorous and require a certain level of commitment from participants in order to get the most out of the material on offer. As with traditional university courses, the onus is on the student to take the bare bones of the material provided and conduct additional research. Obviously, it will depend on what each individual wants to get out of the course. Some take them to supplement their studies, or to help with career development; whereas others simply want to learn about something they have a general interest in and would like to explore in a structured environment.

Can you really learn this way?

I guess the answer is that it depends. If you're into the subject, like studying and are comfortable with multimedia, then you're likely to get a lot out of these courses. You can treat them as simply an online resource, watch the videos and read the posts without getting too involved; or you can really treat this as a university course and put in the requisite work. One of the main advantages of the internet is that there is a lot of information available to anyone able to search for it; meaning you won't need access to a fancy academic library in order to conduct any additional research. In terms of technological proficiency, if you can access the internet, play videos on your computer and post text and pictures in the discussion forum, you should be fine.

What are the main benefits and drawbacks?

OK, let's start with the potential benefits:

- The courses offer open access to quality education for free

- The courses can provide an introduction or refresher for anyone looking to take a more traditional university course

- The courses offer access to leading international professors and other professionals

- The courses are international so there is plenty of opportunity to interact with people from all over the world

- The courses offer the chance to explore a subject without requiring a huge financial or time commitment

Of course, this isn't for everyone and there are some drawbacks to learning this way:

- Open access means literally thousands of people are taking these courses which reduces the personalised nature

- Actual contact with the professor is limited so the onus is very much on the student to learn on their own

- There are certain technological requirements which may exclude some people (although these are pretty basic)

- The standard is pretty high which could deter some people not used to studying at this level or who are completely new to the subject

- It may be hard for the courses to cater to the needs of such a huge range of student experiences which range from beginner to working professional

Whats it like to study this way?

To see what it's like to learn this way, I have enrolled on a couple of iversity courses and will post updates as the courses progress. The courses I am taking are Contemporary Architecture and The Future of Storytelling. The first is simply an opportunity to find out about a subject I have no experience with, but would like to explore; the second will hopefully help me with my fiction writing, so is something in which I have more of a vested interest and some prior experience. I have a background in traditional higher education, so am used to studying at university level, but this is my first time with a MOOC.

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