Consumer-Oriented Online Education

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Consumer-Oriented Online Education

by James G. Barr

Docid: 00018013

Publication Date: 2201

Publication Type: TUTORIAL


Among other functions like e-mail and e-commerce, consumers use the
Internet for education – from practical advice on clearing a clogged drain
to earning a degree from a respected higher education institution. The Internet
enables teachers of all credentials and all backgrounds set up their
online education shop and attract a diverse range of students. The
education may be formal, frequently leading to a degree or technical
certification; informal, providing personal enrichment through a detailed
examination of specific subject matter, like yoga, painting, or the
history of the Roman Empire; or utilitarian, as in how to purchase a used
car, perform first aid, or play the piano. Regardless of the need or
motivation, online education provides a valuable tool for professional and
personal development.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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Much like television in its early days, the Internet has been held as having
the potential to inform and educate masses of people in addition to providing
entertainment. While the educational promise of television has in many ways been
hindered by commercial interests, not  to mention the restricted access to
broadcast facilities, the Internet allows greater access to platforms and
methods for a fast and easy dissemination of information.


Faulkner Reports
Trends in Online Education
Technology Market
Massive Open Online
Courses Tutorial

From practical advice on clearing a clogged drain to earning an
advanced degree in theoretical physics, the Internet enables
teachers of all credentials and all backgrounds to set up their online
education shop and attract a diverse range of students. The
education may be:

  • Formal, frequently leading to a degree or technical certification.
  • Informal, providing personal enrichment through a detailed examination of
    specific subject matter, like yoga, painting, or the history of the Roman
  • Utilitarian, as in how to purchase a used car, perform first aid, or
    play the piano.

The purpose of this survey article is to highlight some of the
consumer-oriented education options available via the Internet, and
encourage students of all ages to avail themselves of a
readily-accessible, and usually easily-affordable, online education.

Formal Education

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As described by analyst Colin Duff, online education – the more
established, formal variety – is delivered in multiple models,

  • Asynchronous learning
    , featuring pre-recorded lectures or seminars consumed by students on a self-paced schedule.
  • Synchronous learning, featuring classes in which all students and their teachers are online and engaging with each other in real time.
  • Distance learning, in which students take higher education courses without physically attending a college or university campus.
  • Massive online open coursework (MOOC), essentially a free “ungated” educational resource for anyone interested in a particular topic.1

Some prominent examples of formal online education include:

The Great Courses

A prime example of asynchronous learning, the Great Courses
offers dozens of courses, usually taught by university professors and
other seasoned experts, and often delivered in 24 30-minute lectures or
lessons (although the number and duration may
vary according to the subject matter). An eclectic collection, the
courses are available via DVD or streaming video. Sample titles

  • “How to Play Chess"
  • “The Foundations of Western Civilization"
  • “Understanding the Quantum World"
  • "The Everyday Gourmet"
  • “Wonders of the National Parks"

Pandemic-Era Virtual Classrooms

An all-too-necessary example of
synchronous learning

is the
“virtual classroom,” which emerged in large numbers across the country and
around the world in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. While less
than ideal in terms of student-to-teacher and student-to-student
interactions, the virtual classroom helped prevent the loss of a precious
school year and mitigate the disruptive effects of COVID-19 on students,
teachers, and working parents.

University of Phoenix

One of the earliest examples of
distance learning
, the University
of Phoenix offers online degrees and courses aligned to more than 300
occupations. An accredited online college, the University of Phoenix
is known for serving non-traditional college populations, including people
with academic deficiencies and at-work adults looking to begin or resume
their formal education.


A premier provider of
massive online open coursework
, Coursera,
according to the company, “partners with more than 200 leading
universities and companies to bring flexible, affordable, job-relevant
online learning to individuals and organizations worldwide. Coursera
offers a range of learning opportunities – from hands-on projects and
courses to job-ready certificates and degree programs.”2

Informal Education

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The power of online education – in particular, the informal variety not
affiliated with traditional institutions – is found in imagination fueled by
innovation. In an online environment, separated from the strictures and limitations of
conventional K-12 and higher education, teaching becomes not just a profession practiced
by trained educators from kindergarten instructors to post-graduate
professors, but also:

  • Students themselves
  • Parents
  • Artists
  • Scientists
  • Technicians
  • Trades people
  • Hobbyists
  • Business professionals
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Anyone else possessing specific skills or abilities and the desire to
    share what they know with a wider audience

In this environment, the student body is represented by a community of
citizens eager to:

  • Expand their awareness of people, places, and things
  • Supplement their standard education
  • Improve their professional prospects
  • Enjoy life to its proverbial fullest

Prominent examples of informal online education include:

Khan Academy

Providing a kind of K-14-supplemental service, Khan Academy, according to
the company, “offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a
personalized learning dashboard that empower learners to study at their
own pace in and outside of the classroom. [The company tackles] math,
science, computing, history, art history, economics, and more, including
K-14 and test preparation (SAT, Praxis, LSAT) content.”

Crash Course

Similar to Khan Academy but aimed at high school and college students,
the team at Crash Course “[believes] that high quality educational videos
should be available to everyone for free. The Crash Course team has
produced more than 15 courses to date, and these videos accompany high
school and college level classes ranging from the humanities to the
sciences. Crash Course transforms the traditional textbook model by
presenting information in a fast-paced format, enhancing the learning


Often derided as a bottomless repository of cute cat videos, YouTube is
perhaps the most valuable education property on the Web. The site’s portfolio of short “how to” videos, usually 15 minutes or
less, is a treasure trove of practical information on topics such as:

  • "How to Master Five Basic Cooking Skills" by chef Gordon Ramsay
  • "How to Read Body Language" by a former FBI agent
  • “How to Invest in Stocks for Beginners" by Cooper Academy
  • “How to INSTANTLY Connect with Anyone” with Oprah Winfrey
  • “How to Learn Anything 10x Faster” by Elon Musk

For people curious about particular professions, YouTube also offers an
assortment of videos detailing “A day in the life of,” including a:

  • YouTube music producer
  • Corporate lawyer
  • Division 1 soccer player
  • A Harvard student
  • An astrophysicist at Oxford University

TED Talks

The TED organization describes itself as “a nonprofit devoted to
spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes
or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment
and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics – from science to
business to global issues – in more than 100 languages." Most impressively from an ongoing and pervasive public education
perspective, the TED YouTube channel has 20.6 million subscribers and
3,803 videos.


A much needed example of interactive learning, Grammarly provides
real-time English language writing assistance via a downloadable
app. While the service is free for individuals, a user can “step up
[her] game” with a premium account. The free version offers
assistance with:

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Conciseness

The Premium edition adds:

  • Clarity-focused sentence rewrites
  • Tone adjustments
  • Plagiarism detection
  • Word choice
  • Formality level
  • Fluency
  • Additional advanced suggestions


MasterClass offers video lessons taught by celebrity experts. A
class, which includes an in-depth workbook, averages 20 lessons with each
lesson being approximately 10 minutes. Current presenters include:

  • Bill Clinton – “Inclusive Leadership"
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson – “Scientific Thinking and Communication"
  • Aaron Sorkin – "Screenwriting"
  • Anna Wintour – “Creativity and Leadership"
  • Bobbi Brown – “Makeup and Beauty"


NPR (formerly National Public Radio) is an independent, nonprofit media
organization with a mission to “create a more informed public.” To
help realize that objective, NPR offers a diverse array of informative podcasts, including:

  • "How I Built This" – Stories behind some of the world’s best companies
  • "Fresh Air" – A Peabody award-winning arts and issues magazine
  • "NPR’s Book of the Day" – Hand-picked great reads
  • "Code Switch" – Fearless conversations about race, politics, and culture
  • "Planet Money" – How money shapes the world

Streaming Documentaries

Once relegated to public television owing to generally poor ratings,
info-rich documentaries occupy a prominent position in most streaming
service portfolios. Netflix, for example, presently offers 42
documentary features, including:

  • "Our Planet" – How climate change impacts all living creatures
  • “Behind the Curve” – Why some people persist in believing the Earth is
  • "What the Health" – How diet affects disease and human health
  • "Amanda Knox" – Twice convicted and acquitted, is she guilty of murder?
  • "Minimalism" – Rejecting the notion that things bring happiness

Online Issues

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In the 1980s police drama “Hill Street Blues,” the show’s desk sergeant was
famed for ending each morning’s roll call with a warning to his fellow
officers, “Let’s be careful out there.” Unfortunately, the same admonition
applies to consumers of online education. While a marvelous source
of information, the Internet is also a source of misinformation or
“disinformation”, the latter term applying to misinformation that is
intentionally spread. While misinformation – and especially
disinformation – are normally associated with social media activity
involving Facebook and other platforms, no element of the Internet
experience, including online education, is entirely immune. To the
extent possible, online students should strive to verify the source of
their training before engaging with any individual or organization
offering online instruction.

Information Curation

In a museum or art gallery, an individual (or team of individuals) is
responsible for “curating” the objects or artifacts on exhibit – a process
that involves establishing their value and authenticity. In a
university or corporation, there is often an individual (or team of
individuals) responsible for curating vital records; again, to establish
their authenticity and integrity. With few exceptions, there are no
official curators or gatekeepers charged with monitoring and managing
information as it transits the Internet. As with the problem of
misinformation, online students should strive to verify the accuracy and
reliability of the educational material they are consuming.

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Crash Course:
Khan Academy:
The Great Courses:
University of Phoenix:


1 Colin Duff. “Everything You Need to Know about Education Technology ‘EdTech’.” Owl Labs. November 9, 2021.

2 Brady Hicks. “Massive Open Online Courses.” Faulkner Information Services (Information Today, Inc.). July 2020.

About the Author

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James G. Barr is a leading business continuity analyst
and business writer with more than 40 years’ IT experience. A member of
“Who’s Who in Finance and Industry,” Mr. Barr has designed, developed, and
deployed business continuity plans for a number of Fortune 500 firms. He
is the author of several books, including How to Succeed in Business
BY Really Trying
, a member of Faulkner’s Advisory Panel, and a
senior editor for Faulkner’s Security Management Practices.
Mr. Barr can be reached via e-mail at

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