Edu-Tech Resources: Top 4 Sites in Virtual Education

Amidst all the feverish activity surrounding social apps, 3D printing and shopping sites, there is one sector where technology is driving significant change and is (relatively!) quiet – education.

I thought it might be useful to list down some of the new developments and offerings in this sector. Although this list is by no means exhaustive, I think it will be useful as a resource for all the budding authors and students out there.

I am going do this over three posts and four categories:

– Education: sites/tools for traditional education like engineering, mathematics, liberal arts and more
– Platforms: tools that allow you to build and distribute you own content
– Programming: learn to code
– Others: well, others!

Each item in the list will also have a (free) or (paid) after the name.

I am not going to cover blogging tools or even the obvious resources like the Khan Academy. While, of course, Khan Academy is doing fantastic and groundbreaking work, I think most of the people are already aware of it. I intend to cover the ones which I think are great but are not that well-publicized.


Formal or traditional education is really the trickiest – arguably the value of education is a function of not only quality of teaching but also of it ending with a certificate or degree / diploma. I am not sure how much cache any of the below hold in the  job market. However, if you are looking purely from a knowledge perspective- these are great.

edX (currently free, plan to introduce a small fee later):

If anyone has a chance of bringing online certification into the mainstream, it is edX. After all, it was founded by two of the best universities in the world  – Harvard and MIT. Now, Berkeley and University of Texas are also part of edX. Currently, edX offers these 7 courses:

– Introduction to Solid State Chemistry (MITx)
– Introduction to Computer Science I (HarvardX)
– Software as a Service (BerkeleyX)
– Circuits and Electronics (MITx)
– Health in Numbers: Quantitative Methods in Clinical & Public Health Research (Harvardx)
– Introduction to Computer Science and Programming (MITx)
– Foundation of Computer Graphics (BerkeleyX)
– Artificial Intelligence (BerkeleyX)

As you can see, these are not overarching courses like Finance or Economics but are very specific and targeted. A certificate is provided at the end of the course, so these could be useful for people looking for one. These courses are also fairly structured – you actually have to register in advance for the course, video-based lectures are on specific dates and coursework and projects have to be completed.

And of course, edX is very useful if you want to learn from Harvard or MIT!

Udacity (free)

Probably the most popular one – Udacity was founded by three roboticists (I am guessing they build robots?). Within weeks of its founding, Udacity had 160,000 people from 190 countries (so basically ALL countries!) signed up for their ‘Introduction to Artificial Intelligence’ course. Udacity seems to be currently focused on computer programming and associated subjects although they do have ‘introduction to physics’ (quite interesting) and ‘introduction to statistics’. Udacity also has a number of courses ranging from algorithms (intermediate) to applied cryptography (advanced).

The courses comprise of video lectures that can be viewed anytime. There is course/project work involved. What I like about it is that Udacity has a strong classroom/discussion component.

Recently, through discussion forums I discovered that Udacity also helps you in finding a job after the certification. This seems to be the benefit of focusing on very niche topics – I mean, how many people could have a certification on Applied Cryptography?

Coursera (free)

Coursera is one of the biggest with a total of 197 courses from over 35 universities (including IIT Delhi and Indraprastha Institute of Technology, Delhi – you get the range). It also seems to have the widest variety of subjects, ranging from Mathematics, Social Sciences, Life Sciences, Biology, Information Technology, Business and more.

There is a statement of accomplishment given at the end of the course and the course can be taken at any time. I am not really sure of the quality of courses – I guess with 35 universities and 197 courses, it’s bound to be varied.

Great place from knowledge perspective, but I think it might not be as useful as EdX (best universities) or Udacity (very focused) in terms of a certification. But then, Coursera calls itself a social enterprise company with an objective to spread knowledge. Sounds fine to me.

All three above have a common goal of spreading education across the globe, but their approaches differ. EdX is more like a distance learning venture with formal courses, scheduled classes and project work. Udacity is focused on niche subjects and is building a reputation around them. Coursera is ‘education democracy’ at best with a hundreds of courses across dozens of subjects with the sole intent of spreading education to all corners of the world.

Finally, iTunes U (Free)

You probably already know – iTunes U is more of a portal allowing you to download video- and audio-based lectures from various universities. However, it doesn’t really offer courses. Just video or audio files, and some of these are somewhat outdated. For instance, I am subscriber to ‘Introduction to Financial Markets’ by Robert Schiller from Yale but the lectures are at least a year old. Given the subject, it’s obviously a problem. Thankfully, there are many current and useful as well – like those from Open University. The now-known Khan Academy also offers all its lectures for download on iTunes.

There are no associated discussion forums, Q&A sections or course/project work. Still, it is incredibly useful listening to luminaries like Robert Schiller on Financial Markets, guest lectures by Carl Icahn, Steve Schwartzman, Hank Greenberg, whom we may not catch in the real world 🙂

 Coming up: a post on PLATFORMS…and more, soon.

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