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Many of the top universities throughout the world are giving away courses for free. These online courses are open to the public and cover a variety of subjects; anything from psychology to art history. MIT, Harvard, Yale, even Vancouver’s own University of British Columbia offers free online courses on selected subjects. Not only do free courses provide the public with a valuable service, but they also give potential students an idea of what they can expect at your institution.

Pique Students’ Interest

Education is an investment. It’s an investment of time and money. For many students, choosing which university to attend and what subjects to study is a decision that isn’t made lightly.

One does not commit to a cheeseburger. You know after the first bite if you’re ever going to set foot in the place again. If the experience was good, you’ll come back; if it was bad, you’ll move on. Post-secondary education isn’t a greasy lunch. You have to commit to a university, stick with a program, try to find a place and if you’re lucky, a life goal—a tall order when you consider how many years of your life is spent inside the classroom. Jumping in as if it were a fast-food combo meal isn’t what most prospective students are going to do.

Having online courses as an option makes that decision a little easier. Students can get a university experience, clear learning goals, and ultimately decide if it’s worth their time. What decision do you think a student will make if he or she has an enlightening experience with an online course offered by a particular institution?

A Free Course isn’t a Free Degree

Earning a PhD in psychology from a couple of online tutorials isn’t the same as actually attending the course in person. That said, paid online courses do have a place, especially when it comes to the certification of a specific niche skill. In these cases, because there is a clear goal at the end, courses are structured and tests are created to truly measure the student’s ability even without direct instruction.

I bring this up because free online courses are neither tutorials nor free degrees. The courses are a way for students to get a little taste of it and explore an extra project on the side. It’s not so much about giving your whole program away for free. Instead, you’re providing students with the tools to explore a topic in a little more depth than Wikipedia could offer.

Most Important: it’s a Call-to-Action

Presenting prospective students with a new learning experience could be just the thing they need to take that next step. Someone on the fence about one business degree from Institution X or Institution Y might be more inclined to go with the one who has offered them a taste of what they’ve got, especially if the experience was positive. It gives the students a reason to choose one over the other.

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