Closing the skills gap with online learning

computer sqAs everyone entitled to a job? Or do individuals need to make sure they have the skills needed by employers, or the skills needed to create their own job? One of the main reasons for the rising income gap is lack of education and skills for the current job market. As school starts this year, here’s a look at a number of online, free tools to help parents, students and adults with their educational needs.

Khan Academy ( is a “For Free, For Everyone, Forever” website that offers help for courses by subject. It is designed for students, parents and teachers and covers a number of topics for K-8, high school and beyond. Subjects include math, science, economics and finance, arts and humanities, computing and test prep(aration). Khan Academy also offers content from a number of partners including museums. The math courses appear to have the most depth. K-8 math exercises are by grade level, presented as lessons with problems and points are awarded for correct answers. I have an eight-year-old grandson, so I started the exercises for third grade math and made a mistake. The lesson then told me I needed more work and recommended additional problems. The problems are varied, so the answers are not rote and assistance can be requested for each problem.

Different formats are used depending on the subject. American civics is found as a subject under “Arts and Humanities.” I started the course on the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka “Obamacare”) and it was presented as a video lecture with a voice talking as writing was occurring on a chalkboard.


Parents or teachers can also use the Academy and sign up to be coaches.

If anyone has ever wanted to be a contestant on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader,” this would be the tool to use to help prepare you for the show.

University of the People ( is the world’s first nonprofit, tuition-free, accredited, online university. It offers associate and bachelor degrees in business administration and computer science. It is based on the principles of e-learning and peer-to-peer learning. It has partnered with Yale University for research, New York University for admissions and Hewlett-Packard for internships. It is structured like most universities; student learning includes lessons, classes, discussions, readings, assignments and exams. Students can pick where and when to study, based on their work or life schedule. The University of the People has several tools it uses to work with students to ensure their commitment and promote their academic success.

There is a nominal university application fee ($10 to $50) and a fee is charged to take final examinations (about $100 per exam). To apply, you have to be over 18, have graduated from high school or have a GED, and be proficient in English. Their mission is “…to offer affordable, quality, online, degree-granting educational programs to any qualified student.” Its founders believe that education at a minimal cost is a basic right for all qualified applicants, not just for a privileged few.

People have asked what’s the difference between University of the People and MOOCs (massive open online courses)? MOOCs, for the most part, don’t offer the ability to earn an associate or bachelor degree, they offer stand-alone courses. University of the People offers fully structured degree programs complete with courses in the arts and sciences to complement the chosen degree program.

When I’ve mentioned University of the People to a few friends, they say that college is also a social experience and question if that will be lost with the education being online. I think it will be a different type of social experience, especially with peer-to-peer learning. To me, the more important issue is the rising cost of higher education in the United States which denies many qualified students access to learning and the skills needed for employment. University of the People provides an option for thousands of those folks.

For people who are curious or just like learning about new things, TED (technology, education, design) talks ( presents a series of lectures on “ideas worth spreading.” When I can’t sleep, I’ll log on to TED and learn about things like the University of the People, how to be happy (being grateful plays a large part), new technology, the top 40 tools needed for civilization with blueprints on how to make them and a wealth of other ideas. It’s also a great way to track future trends, which could lead to future employment opportunities. Check it out.

If you don’t have access to the Internet, please remember the library has PCs and Internet connections so please don’t allow not having access keep you from learning. For this generation and into the future, learning will be a lifelong activity, especially with the changing job market. It is the individual’s responsibility to make sure he or she has the skills needed in the workplace.

Beth Murphy’s column appears monthly.