2013 Online Course Wrap-up

Happy 2014! Want to learn something new? Try a free online course!

I've participated in several during the past year. What I've noticed is that online courses have different goals and different audiences depending on the source. Thus you'll get different things out of each one. Here's an overview of the courses I took. See what works for you.

Human-Computer Interaction, a Stanford Online course through Coursera

This is a university course modified for online presentation and massive open participation. As you might expect, it has a very academic feel. With videos, quizzes, assignments and peer assessments, all on a rigid time frame, it's definitely the most intense and immersive of the courses listed here. Plan to spent 10-15 hours per week on course related activities during the 2 months of class.

Definitely worth it if you can make the time. It includes a huge amount of material and hands-on experience. During the course you take an idea (website or mobile app) all the way into the prototyping and user testing phases. You won't get a completely finished app or site but you'll be well on your way. Read all my posts on this course.

User Experience for the Web (WebUX) through Open2Study

Open2Study is backed by the Open Universities Australia. This particular course is a free course related to the Bachelor of Arts (Internet Communications) accredited degree program. After taking the HCI course from Stanford, this one feels like a teaser to their BA program and it may well be.

It consists of four modules with about 10 videos each and includes brief in-video quizzes and end-of-module assessments. No specific deadlines or time frame--start and end the course whenever you like.

No hands-on activities but it does provide a nice overview of UX including purpose, elements and methods, all with a lovely light Australian accent. If you're not sure yet if user experience is your thing or if you want to introduce a co-worker to UX, then this is the course for you.

Javascript lessons on Codeacademy

Here's where I jumped from UX into code for a bit. Curiosity got the better of me and you should let it get the better of you too.

Codeacademy is completely self-paced and provides lessons on popular languages for programming websites including HTML, CSS, Javascript, jQuery, PHP, Python and Ruby. This is all about do-it-yourself style learning. No videos. Just a step-by-step addition to your skill set. Text instructions and information on one side of the screen and the code (theirs and yours) on the other.

Lessons are easy to follow and quick. It saves your progress as you go and it's easy to stop and come back to. Time commitment is minimal for just an introduction. The more you want to know the more time you'll want to spend. If you're looking for a hands-on introduction to any of the languages above then this is your place.

Coding for Designers through Aquent Gymnasium

Since Aquent is a staffing firm for "digital creative and marketing professionals" it should come as no surprise that this course is the most productive in terms of professional development and building your portfolio.

The express purpose of the Aquent Gymnasium is to bridge the skills gap by "teach[ing] digital designers and front-end developers today's most in demand skills."

The Coding for Designers course is, as you might imagine, for designers (print or web) who want to learn more about the coding part of website design, specifically HTML and CSS. This is the only class I've taken that had a quiz covering the prerequisites and you had to pass it before signing up. This is a great idea as it ensures that students have the necessary knowledge to understand the design terms used throughout.

The thoughtfully put together and engaging videos answered many questions a designer has walking into a coding environment. Each of the 6 lessons includes videos, a brief quiz and a real-world assignment to practice the material covered. The final exam is relatively brief but ensures that you have a foot in the door of the coding world.

The Aquent Gymnasium is still pretty new and the number of students enrolled is relatively low compared to many other massive free online courses. Course assistants frequently answer questions on the forum and review student assignments.

What I found particularly useful was the specific guidelines given regarding what you can say in your resume and what you should show in your portfolio after the course. There are specific extra credit assignments given to help you build your portfolio.

If you have career oriented educational goals, definitely check out the current course offerings on Aquent Gymnasium.

Enjoy a very educational 2014!