Saturday 27 December 2014

How you can gain new skills and qualifications – for free

Irish online education provider ALISON.com is changing the way we learn

Tea and bite-sized courses: Ben Moore found work after upskilling online. Photo by Martin Maher
Tea and bite-sized courses: Ben Moore found work after upskilling online. Photo by Martin Maher

Fancy doing a course in Chinese, law, computer studies or business skills from the comfort of your own home and at your own pace?

Oh and by the way it's free and you can get a certificate or diploma to help sell your new skills in the workplace.

That's the idea of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which are opening up free educational opportunities to millions of learners worldwide with top universities including Harvard and Stanford among those now offering them.

Ireland is home to one of the biggest such free online education providers – Galway-based ALISON.com.

This started up in 2007, and now has a massive three million learners worldwide with another 200,000 signing up every month.

The US, Britain and India are its biggest markets for learners, but there are around 100,000 learners in Ireland availing of free courses on ALISON, says its founder Mike Feerick.

It focuses on work-related skills offering 600 different courses in a vast range of subjects, with more being added every month.

Computer literacy, English language, project management, psychology and business management have proven the most popular worldwide.

In Ireland, the most popular courses include Excel, building a website and business and computer skills. A free Project Maths video course released just two weeks ago is proving hugely popular with Irish students and teachers.

Mr Feerick, who previously worked with philanthropist Chuck Feeney, describes Alison as a "for-profit social enterprise" that is harnessing the technical capabilities of the internet to deliver free education globally.

In general, the same information is needed over and over again to learners, meaning that the internet is the ideal way to make education widely available to millions, he says.

"Once the content has been created, it doesn't cost any extra to deliver it all around the world, and we are providing a platform to do that," he says.

He notes that ALISON is now the biggest provider of online education in Africa with more than 600,000 users even though he's never been there – showing the scope to reach people who might otherwise never get these learning opportunities.

The company makes its money through web-based advertising, and also has an ad-free premium service that you can sign up to for around €50 a year.

It has won a UNESCO award for innovation in education.

ALISON employs 30 people in its Galway headquarters, who mostly work on developing the technical platform to deliver its courses worldwide via computers, mobiles and tablets.

Courses are all assessed by educational specialists with at least a Masters qualification to ensure they deliver on quality.

Irish Independent

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