Online education catalogue [beta!]

Rapid developments in information and communication technology over the past decade have had a significant impact on education. In this period, numerous groups—both commercial and non-profits—have turned to the Internet to deliver their learning material.

The following tables catalogue some noteworthy online learning efforts, classified into a few broad categories:

Please write to me if you have any corrections, updates or additions you’d like me to make. And check back periodically since these tables are frequently updated!

Non-profit initiatives

Commercial companies

Virtual universities

Content aggregators

Technology providers

The evolution of the online learning landscape

In addition to the classification system I’ve used earlier, it should also be noted that the online learning landscape has evolved over the years. I tend to think of this in terms of three broad (and overlapping) generations.

The first generation of online education sites are generally broad, and aim simply to publish traditional non-interactive content online. An example of this is an initiative from MIT called OpenCourseWare, which aims to deliver the university’s existing course catalogue to a worldwide audience for free. This site thus contains video recordings of regular university lectures, published along with existing class material. This content has not been created specifically for online distribution.

Evolving from this, the second generation of sites tend to be more polished, and have specialized content created with online distribution in mind. They also have a limited degree of social interactivity built in. Treehouse is a beautiful example of a site aimed at teaching people how to design and develop for the web and iOS. It does this primarily through a collection of training videos of high-quality, produced specifically for online consumption.

As polished as this second generation of sites are, they continue to provide a passive learning experience, where the student essentially consumes information. And pedagogical evidence suggests that students learn best when actively participating. This has resulted in a third generation of sites that are extremely polished, and go well beyond simply housing traditional learning material and fostering student interaction.

This modern crop of sites feature interactive videos and exercises as central teaching tools. In addition, they use a technique commonly found in game design to incentivize students to complete their learning goals. Termed gamification, this is a system where students unlock badges as they successfully make it through the material. They even incorporate deadlines, all aiming to create the best possible learning experience for the students. A wonderful example of a site from this generation is Code School, where students learn programming through interactive video lessons and programming exercises done within the browser.