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Back-to-School for Grownups: Take a MOOC

The opportunity to learn from a professor at an elite university is tempting, but few stick with it to the end. Even free courses from illustrious institutions like Stanford University report a 95% drop-out rate.

Still, it's a chance to explore topics one may otherwise not have the time or money to spare. Just don't expect a free degree from Harvard. At least not yet. (Georgia Institute of Technology may be the first -- it recently partnered with MOOC provider Udacity to offer a genuine master's degree in computer science for $7,000, an 85% discount.)

MOOCs span topics from hard-core classes like "Artificial Intelligence for Robotics" taught by Stanford University computer-science Professor Sebastian Thrun at Udacity, to business-minded courses, like "Welch Way: Leadership in Action," taught by former General Electric (GE) CEO Jack Welch over at Udemy.

Here's a list of MOOC providers to get you started in learning something new:

Coursera

Founded by Stanford University Professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, Coursera is just two years old but one of the largest and most recognized MOOC providers. To date, 4.6 million "Courserians" have enrolled.

Current classes include topics from "A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers" from the California Institute of the Arts to "Financial Engineering and Management Part I" from Columbia University. It currently offers 435 courses from 85 partners, including Yale, the National University of Singapore and Stanford. A search box on the homepage asks the simple question: What would you like to learn about?

coursera.org

Udacity

Another Stanford University startup, Udacity began as an experiment by research Professor Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig. The couple of dozen courses, heaviest on computer science, aren't all linked to a university. For example, "How to Build a Startup" is an eight-session course led by Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

For the most part, courses are not timed and are available at any moment, so students can self-pace. Still, there are assignments and a final exam. Udacity splits its courses into categories and then levels -- beginner, intermediate and advanced.

udacity.com

edX

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology started their own MOOC and created a consortium of other impressive schools like Berklee College of Music, UC Berkeley and the University of Texas. With Harvard and MIT in the lead, courses are heavy on math and science, with a bit of poetry and Shakespeare thrown in.

edx.org
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