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Features & Columns
by Michelle Randall

Online Education

How valuable is open-source learning?

If you've a thirst for knowledge, the Internet is your friend
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Using the Internet as a learning tool: does it increase the value of your CV in the job market, or is it merely a source of add-on skills that'll give you an extra edge in your current role?

In 2009, YouTube launched its EDU channel to centralise content from over 100 universities and colleges, and today provides open access to lectures, research, and campus tours. Think of it as an enormous global video classroom, divided into three sub-categories: Primary and Secondary Education, University, and Lifelong Learning. Nearly every major educational institution in the world hosts its own collection of news, lectures, tutorials, and open courseware on this platform.

Ever longed to wander the hallowed halls of Harvard University and tap into extraordinary minds? Save yourself the airfare and click on Harvard's YouTube channel. It's that easy. But what value does open-learning hold when you're facing an HR Manager over a wood-veneer desk and talking 5-year goals?

Mishal Fortune, 30, is the post-production coordinator at Cooked In Africa Films. With no tertiary qualifications to his name, he's a prime example of someone using the Internet to gain skills in a niche discipline, and flourishing. "Most of the skills I use daily, including motion graphics, online editing and technical engineering, I learned online," says Mishal, who adds that holding his current position is an accomplishment in itself, given his lack of formal training. Before he joined the postproduction department in the television industry, Mishal was a shop assistant at clothing retail outlets. He used the internet to study editing tutorials, learn video formats and different editing programs, and brush up on how to meet local and international broadcasting standards.

While Mishal says that accessing the wealth of knowledge available on the internet continues to provide him with new skills and an added edge to his job, as well as keep him abreast of industry trends, he doubts whether it holds any clout on his CV. "I think that although the knowledge I've gained has practical merit, it doesn't carry the weight of a qualification from a traditional or recognised higher education institution. However, I'd like to think job experience would be the deciding factor in an interview." Certainly, the practical values of some skills learned online couldn’t be denied. For instance, learning a language is a skill that will definitely hold its own on the front page of your CV, and YouTube EDU provides several language tutorials to achieve this. While you don't gain a qualification from the EDU channel, speaking a second or third language - depending on where you want to work - could benefit your potential employer. However, if you are looking for a qualification, online schools with pay-to-learn courses are beginning to enjoy job-market credibility.

Get Smarter, which is affiliated with the University of Cape Town, offers a wide range of short courses online, all of which you can complete in your own time within a stipulated period. Browsing through Get Smarter's available online courses, there's no doubt they aren't practical. Everything from business management, payroll and tax administration, to graphic design courses is on offer. "Since we're already behind a computer for most of the day, plugging into the knowledge at our fingertips is an effective tool to use," says Mishal. "Even if you're just starting out in an industry, there's already unlimited information available." But what about "soft skills," which fall outside of technical or practical how-to? These are the skills that make up your emotional intelligence; your work ethic, communication skills, how you relate to and deal with other people, and what your outlook on life is despite your past experiences.

These are skills that can't be taught, but can be learned through experience of and exposure to any number of scenarios. A case in point: while perusing YouTube EDU's Lifelong Learning channel and looking for valuable skills, I got distracted and absorbed by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TEDx Talk entitled "We should all be feminists." While an entertaining talk overall, I can't quite measure what I gained in terms of education, other than an opportunity to see through a window into someone else's experiences. Then again, empathy is a soft skill we should all hone. The lowdown: YouTube EDU is a bit mix-and-match. You've got to put in some time to scroll past seemingly endless lists of irrelevant tutorials to find something valuable. If you're specific about what you're looking for, I'd suggest you start with Google and search from there.

If you've a thirst for knowledge, the Internet is your friend. As in Mishal's case, use the unlimited resources at your fingertips to achieve your goals. And if you've got some money to invest in learning a new skill, check out Get Smarter.

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