Thanks to top univer­si­ties of­fer­ing online cour­ses – some for free – the time-and-cash-strapped can be­come mini-ex­perts at just about any­thing.

Too strapped for time – and funds – to pur­sue a much de­sired course at a reg­u­lar uni­ver­sity? No wor­ries. Top­notch in­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing Har­vard and Stan­ford are of­fer­ing a di­verse range of cour­ses online. And best of all, many of them are free, dis­cov­ers

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If you’re an avid video gamer, you’ll be fa­mil­iar with the acro­nym ‘MMORPG’, which de­scribes games played online with other peo­ple – or, more ac­cu­rately, Mas­sively Muli­ti­player Online Role­Play­ing Games. As many peo­ple know, its op­po­site num­ber in academia is the “Mooc” – the Mas­sive Open Online Course. But what you may not be too fa­mil­iar with is just how pop­u­lar online learn­ing like this has be­come. In the decade since cour­ses like this first started spring­ing up online, Mooc has been em­braced by dozens of world-class ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing Har­vard, Stan­ford, the Na­tional Uni­ver­sity of Sin­ga­pore and the Aus­tralian Na­tional Uni­ver­sity.

Some ex­perts say that this is just the be­gin­ning. Fast-for­ward a cou­ple of decades, and the idea that you need to put your life on hold and place your­self within walk­ing dis­tance of your lec­turer in or­der to fur­ther your education will prob­a­bly seem old fash­ioned. The in­ter­net is dis­rupt­ing some long-stand­ing tra­di­tions and mak­ing learn­ing more ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one. What is es­pe­cially ap­peal­ing is the chance to be­come a mini-ex­pert on some­thing that’s al­ways in­trigued you. Small ‘taster’ cour­ses typ­i­cally take just a few weeks and you’ll be tu­tored by some of the finest minds in academia. You’ll also have thou­sands of fel­low par­tic­i­pants to en­gage with if you want to. Best of all, the course will prob­a­bly be free – un­less you want to buy a cer­tifi­cate that says you’ve done it.

In 2013, when 36-year-old Hamed Kha­dem first heard about one of the world’s lead­ing providers of online cour­ses named Fu­tureLearn – a com­pany started by the Open Uni­ver­sity in 2012 – he was in­trigued. Hav­ing grad­u­ated from high school in 1998, Dubai-born Hamed worked for seven years un­til he had amassed enough money to do what he’d al­ways wanted to do: en­rol at the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Dubai, where he took a ma­jor in In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy.

Study­ing was very much in his DNA, and he was in­stantly taken with the Fu­tureLearn web­site and its 500-plus cour­ses.

‘My brother and I im­me­di­ately started se­lect­ing some,’ he says. ‘The Se­cret Power of Brands was the first one I did, and now here I am af­ter a cou­ple of years with more than 30 cour­ses com­pleted and ex­pe­ri­ence in al­most ev­ery field imag­in­able.’

Hamed says he con­sid­ers him­self ad­dicted to learn­ing, as he puts it, and ad­mits to hav­ing signed up for an­other 50 ad­di­tional cour­ses. ‘I feel the need to learn some­thing in all places and at all times,’ he says. ‘If I don’t learn some­thing new ev­ery day I feel like some­thing is miss­ing in­side me.’

He’s cer­tainly not alone – peo­ple love to broaden their minds. ‘There are two big groups when it comes to Mooc,’ says Mark Lester, Fu­tureLearn’s di­rec­tor of part­ner­ships de­vel­op­ment. ‘There’s the pro­fes­sional au­di­ence seek­ing to

Hamed Kha­dem says he is ad­dicted to learn­ing – he has al­ready com­pleted more than 30 online cour­ses

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