Frequently Asked Questions

What is NextGenU.org?
NextGenU.org is the world's first portal where anyone, anywhere can get free, accredited, higher education. For now we concentrate our trainings (courses, certificates, residencies, etc.) primarily in the health sciences, using expert-created competencies and resources. We work in partnership with experts and professional organizations for quality assurance and endorsement, and use cutting-edge educational innovations, including computer-based learning resources, and local and web-based peer-to-peer and mentoring experiences.
Is NextGenU.org really completely free?
Yes -- we are the first cost, barrier, advertisement, and carbon-free educational organization available to everyone around the world.
What is NextGenU.org's learning model?
NextGenU.org's learning model builds on educational best practices, including using high-quality online learning materials (e.g., text, videos, images), interactive peer activities (e.g online chat rooms, and creating and assessing peer-generated case studies, images, and multiple choice questions), and hands-on mentored experiences (e.g., seeing and discussing patients). This model mirrors and expands on the traditional university experience through interacting with peers and experts in the field of study, while learning basic knowledge on one's own via online learning materials. Our courses do not require active traditional faculty involvement (that's part of how NextGenU.org can offer the trainings for free), though course creators, advisory committee members, students' mentors, and other experts are invited to participate in chat rooms. We also strongly encourage teachers and training institutions around the world to take the collected resources and link to them whenever they'd like, all the way up to creating full degrees with collections of our courses. We'd love to hear about it here or let us know at potentialcollaborations[at]NextGenU.org - we're happy to provide you with data on your students if you're an institution that wants to adopt our training. This would be with no costs or strings attached, although we would like to evaluate and improve your experience, and co-author peer-reviewed publications using de-identified data with you (we have considerable experience in doing so).
How do you offer a high-quality education for free and for credit?
There is an abundance of free educational resources that already exist, so our trainings are not expensive to assemble and create. The expert-derived competencies on which we base our trainings are already freely posted, as are the expert-created online learning resources that help address those competencies. We identify and pair the competencies with resources and with interactive experiences that we create for trainees to perform with mentors and peer trainees. Trainees also write reviews of each others' work and interact in automatically-translated chat rooms, forming an engaging global and sustainable community of practice, all for free. Trainings are further checked for quality, getting posted after our expert volunteer Advisory Committees and co-sponsoring accredited organizations approve them.
Why did you name it NextGenU.org?
We called it NextGenerationYou because we aim to constantly help educate the next generation of "you"s, and are abbreviated as NextGenU.org, with a dot-org because we're non-profit. And it's called NextGenU.org to suggest that we remain leading-edge and sustainable for all future generations -- sustainable intellectually, financially, socially, and environmentally.
Are you the world's first free university?
We are not a university. We do not grant credit or degrees; our university partners and other partners already accredited by their governments and professional societies give the credit for our courses (for free). Some people refer to us as the world's first free university, likely because no one else offers free university-level courses with free testing and certification for academic credit to the whole world, without limits of number or place.
What is NextGenU.org's Business Model?
Our business model is five words: grateful learners and inspired donors. Grateful learners include the many thousands of professionals who have freely posted the resources NextGenU.org links to, and the course creators and staff who have created this site, either as volunteers or earning no more than USD 25 per hour. We also expect that many of NextGenU.org's trainees will donate money and/or time to create additional trainings, or to serve as mentors. More traditional donors have been key, as well -- inspired individuals, organizations, and governments that have collaborated with us, both financially and intellectually. Please click
or write to donate[at]nextgenu.org if you're interested in joining these grateful and inspired people.

Many people have asked us why we don't charge at least a little. First, because we (and we believe, the courts) don't think that it's legal or ethical fair use to charge a student to access material that we neither developed nor posted, and which were posted by others for free. And second, because we've seen other organizations try different (but always monetized) systems, and they've not been very successful. And third, because we've figured out how we can give it away, so why should we charge? (That's the .org in us.)
Who are NextGenU.org's Founding Collaborators and Funders?
Who do you expect will use NextGenU.org?
  • Students, universities (and other schools), and practitioners in low and middle income countries that would like trainings in areas that they don't have easily available.
  • Students, universities (and other schools), and practitioners in high income countries that would like training in areas that they don't have easily available - in fact many of our trainings are rarely available elsewhere, even for a cost, such as our upcoming trainings on Genetics, Climate Change and Health, or Prevention and Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorders.
How do you know if NextGenU.org works?
Though we were established in 2001, we're just now launching our first courses in 2012, so there are still lots of questions about where/how we are most effective at teaching. In the interim we are:
  • using best practices for teaching , including online high-quality competencies and learning resources from organizations certified to give courses and degrees (e.g. universities, professional specialty societies, government health organizations), coupled with local mentored and distance peer-to-peer training, and many other educational innovations (see above at "what is NextGenU.org's learning model?") .
  • partnering with existing credentialing organizations for course creation and measurement - for example, after completing our training, NextGenU surgical trainees will be allowed to take surgical boards in 9 countries through our Memo of Understanding with the College of Surgeons of East, Central, and Southern Africa. And our Emergency Medicine graduates are being trained and tested using standard materials and questions from our partners, including the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, the International Federation of Emergency Medicine, and Emory University Center for Injury Control. Our early quantitative data have shown virtually identical results for NextGenU and traditional American training.
  • actively testing and piloting every place we can -- our first focus groups from Latin America have called our approach "genius", and attendees at North American presentations have described it as "an answer to our prayers", "Nobel Peace Prize worthy", and (from two former Directors of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control) "a visionary undertaking" and "a pioneer in figuring out how to educate for the future and help those in greatest need.". These are encouraging words, and we are generating additional qualitative and quantitative data wherever we can find people to do so. Please contact us if you/your organization would be interested in such a partnership. We have an experienced research team to help guide such collaborations, so don't worry if you're eager to collaborate but not an expert in research.
  • avidly examining the many metrics NextGenU will be automatically generating: mentored-, peer-to-peer-, and self-assessments, quiz and exam results, collaboratively-created, peer-reviewed work products like case studies and multiple choice questions, and qualitative assessments by trainees of their educational experience with us. Significantly, all these metrics can be stratified by educational background, age, gender, country, previous courses taken with NextGenU, etc., yielding a rich data set that we hope will fuel dissertations and educational revolutions around the world, with the help we are grateful to offer.
Who can I contact if I need technical assistance?
Our technical support capacity is small, and you need to get local support for any personal needs. However, we'd certainly like to know immediately if there are site-related issues that require fixing; please contact us at support[at]NextGenU.org.
Where is NextGenU.org based?
Our offices are on desktops and laptops of contributors living and working on every continent but Antarctica (so far!). NextGenU.org is an activity of the Ulrich and Ruth Frank Foundation for International Health, incorporated as a non-profit foundation (a 501C3 organization) in the United States.
Who started NextGenU.org?
Dr. Erica Frank is the Founder, President, and Executive Director of NextGenU.org, and began this work by starting to build NextGenU's health sciences online library (www.hso.info) in 2001, to determine if there was enough depth of resources to create a major health professional training program. Dr. Frank is a professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health. Ann Hulton, Chief Technology Officer, leads the design and implementation of HSO's library and NextGenU.org's educational platforms. A small core group of professionals runs NextGenU’s operations, working with global teams of volunteer course creators and advisors.
When did NextGenU.org start offering courses?
While course resources and strategies started to be assembled and piloted in 2001, the first students were invited to enroll in courses in the spring of 2012. After evaluating, refining, and expanding those offerings, we were ready to launch NextGenU globally in April 2013.
Why start with medical and public health courses?
First, because WHO states that the world is in dire need of over 4 million additional health providers, and that serious global resource constraints and remarkable open courseware opportunities mandate heavy use of computer-assisted technology to train them. Second, because medical and public health schools globally typically allow students to receive credit for educational experiences offered away from their home institution, making this a familiar and credible model for this very important use of NextGenU’s courses.
Who is using NextGenU.org?
  • Students, universities (and other schools), and practitioners in low and middle income countries that would like highly-quality trainings in subjects that they don't have easily available.
  • Students, universities (and other schools), and practitioners in high income countries that also would like highly-quality training in subjects that they don't have easily available - in fact many of our trainings are rarely available elsewhere, even for a cost, such as our already-available training on Climate Change and Health, or our upcoming trainings on Prevention and Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorders, Adult and Pediatric Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, or Domestic Violence.
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Questions about courses and trainings
Where can I find a list of courses offered by NextGenU.org?
You can find a list of currently offered courses here, and courses currently in development here. You can submit a suggestion for a new course by sending an email to info[at]nextgenu.org, or see at the bottom of our FAQs for instructions about how to suggest a new course.
When do classes start?
We do not use a semester or term system. Students can begin learning whenever they choose, and can take as long as they'd like with a course - we're competency-based, not semester-based. If you are planning on taking a course for credit toward a degree at an institution where you are enrolled, they may have other rules about timing and documentation, and you should check before starting the course, so you give them the needed documentation to see what you've learned and accomplished. We will have lots to show for that from your final exam scores, peer-to-peer activities, and mentored activities.
How can someone use these trainings?
We've thought of four major ways our courses can be used.

Anyone/Anywhere/Any time -- The first method of use is that anyone, anywhere can take these courses anytime they'd like. If you'd like a certificate of completion, you must have obtained the prior degree so we can feel confident that you would have the pre-requisites to understand the materials we're offering. So, for example, for our university-level Pre-Health Sciences Certificate, an official at the high school from which you graduated needs to check a box online, certifying that you graduated from that high school - that's our only admissions criterion for getting a Certificate of Completion at the end of completing a training.

A Student Enrolled in a University -- Individual students enrolled anywhere in the world can sign up to take the courses directly - all of our trainings are certified by universities or specialty societies credentialed to offer courses. Alternatively, your institution can offer the course in part or in its entirety, including helping students identify local peers and mentors for the hands-on trainings. Many respected institutions around the world are doing just that with NextGenU, from Walter Reed Army Medical Center (requiring NextGenU.org's Emergency Medicine training for senior medical students to the Physical Activity training we're creating and testing with the Fundacion Santa Fe Bogota and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. These trainings could be helpful for fundamentals (especially in developing countries) or for electives not available at your many schools (in both developing and industrialized countries) - a full list of the offerings are here.

A Faculty Member or Dean at a Traditional University - Maybe you are a Dean of a School of Medicine and you want to teach your students preclinical and clinical sciences, but you can't afford to hire another basic scientist or clinician for this purpose, or this hire wants/needs to spend most of their time researching and/or seeing patients (this is the situation faced by many institutions around the world). A NextGenU.org solution to this would be using our online trainings to teach facts and create significant interactions with an international community of mentors and peers interested in the course topic. Additionally, a university could identify local mentors and peers to help students acquire and practice skills, and have the scarce faculty members be available to answer questions.

A practitioner who'd like to learn more -- You may need to take continuing education for ongoing certification, or perhaps you'd like to grow professionally, but barriers like cost and time away from home and work always seem too high. NextGenU.org can allow you to train with a global community of peers anyplace there's a computer and at least occasionally connectivity, and we provide a structure for local opportunities to observe and practice your skills with a mentor.

Perhaps there are other categories of learners we've missed? -- Please let us know how you use NextGenU.org (at QualitativeResearch[at]NextGenU.org). Whatever role you're in, it is worth noting that trainees should not be charged for using the openly-posted learning objects that are the foundation of our free training, as this is likely not fair use of this openly-posted intellectual property.
What are the admission requirements?
There are no admission requirements to take any course. Anyone who wishes to take any NextGenU.org course may do so, free of barriers. For a trainee to take a course for credit, though, we need to be confident that you would have the pre-requisite experience and knowledge to understand the educational level at which the training is presented. So to earn course credit/certification for a course, you must be currently registered at a recognized academic institution at that same level, or have obtained the prior degree. For example, for our university-level Pre-Health Sciences Certificate, an official from your current university or the high school from which you graduated just needs to check a box for us online, certifying that you graduated from a high school and/or are currently enrolled in a university or college - that type of verification is our only admissions criterion for getting a Certificate of Completion at the end of completing a training.
How can I sign up for a course?
Click on this link (it will take you to our list of courses), pick one you'd like to check out, and leap in, either just to learn or browse, or to register and take it for credit.
Will my home university give me a course credit for a NextGenU.org course?
All of our courses are offered in partnership with organizations (universities, professional specialty societies, and/or government agencies) that are certified to give courses for credit. We will email your designee (such as a faculty member or registrar) at your home university:
  • a link to and description of the course training, so they can see the components of it
  • your work products, such as the required case study and multiple choice questions, and any other optional shared materials that you produce and authorize to share with them, and
  • your evaluations -- the mentored-, self-, and peer-to-peer-assessments, and your final exam scores (with comparisons with the median scores of others at your level of training, and with everyone who's taken the course). In our prior work, NextGenU.org's faculty has supervised 1000s of students using more traditional courses, clerkships, internships, and other "visiting rotations", and we feel confident that the metrics that NextGenU.org provides to home universities are far richer than the feedback schools typically get when faculty outside the home institution provide some of their trainees' education. NextGenU.org can also provide final exams that your university could directly supervise your taking, and we can also videotape your taking the final exam and give other test use metrics (time/websites visited during the exam, etc.) to your home university (of course all for free). We're also happy to hear requests from institutions for other metrics that would provide even more information about their students' performance. We suggest that as with any course you take outside of your home institution that you check in early with your university to be sure they'll allow the credit, and that you emphasize the accredited cosponsoring organizations offering the course, and the multiple evaluation metrics you'll be giving your school so they can determine your level of effort and accomplishment.
Is there help in case I have questions about course content?
The best help that we've integrated into NextGenU.org is the presence for everyone an international set of peers with whom you directly interact, including in a chat room (with automated translation available) where peers, mentors, course graduates, course creators, advisory committee members visit to provide advice and direction. Additionally, everyone (except for basic science students) is required to have a mentor with whom you regularly meet, who can help resolve questions. Finally, we have tried hard to make courses as intuitive and user-friendly as possible, and welcome your suggestions for how to improve this.
When you say the trainings are "available in 58 languages" what does that mean?
Through the powerful gift of Google Translate, all of the text included in NextGenU.org can be translated into 58 languages. While this service is limited by the weaknesses of an automated translator tool, Google's program encourages submissions to them of better translations, and hovering one's mouse over the translated text makes the original English text pop-up.
Please explain the logo?
NextGenU.org's logo is a small homage laden with a large amount of symbolism. To NextGenU.org's founders it looks like:
  • the silhouette of an apple for the teacher, and an apple signifying health (traditional North American icons of education and health), and
  • a heart/love symbol, because NextGenU.org is the product of the enormous generosity of tens of thousands of smart, kind, eager people around the world, because we have warm senses of humor, and for many of the other attributes cited for the heart symbol here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_(symbol)
  • an academic shield or a mortarboard (the hat worn at many formal graduation ceremonies)
  • the 10 commandments in silhouette (we told you it was quite a list!)
  • the fullest expression of our name that we can fit in a small space (including the .org, because that's where our URL is, and that's where our philosophical foundation rests)
  • the "bright and deep green" colors that we use to denote intelligent and meaningful sustainability
  • Capri's beautiful Blue Grotto's water, light, and moss. Grottos are places in caves or gardens where people have gathered since before the time of Plato's outdoor Academy to be in community, learn, enjoy, and be reverent in a sheltered, unusual, and exquisite ecosystem. Our grotto just happens to be available on everyone's computer.

What does our logo symbolize to you? Click here to tell us!
What's the ideal story of what NextGenU.org could look like for a student?
Imagine a 25 year old woman named Hope, living in Kikuyu, Kenya. Hope has finished University, and would like to stay in Kikuyu and would like to become a doctor. Since she hasn't taken all the pre-medical courses needed for admission, she takes NextGenU.org's Pre-Health Sciences Certificate. She continues to work at a local job to earn a living, and takes our Certificate from home for free over two years' time, doing well on our assessments, and developing a good relationship with a local doctor at whose clinic she volunteers one day per week. Hope is offered admission to Kikuyu's new medical school, at Presbyterian University of East Africa (PUEA). NextGenU.org has partnered with PUEA since 2010 to offer and test many of our basic and clinical science trainings, and Hope takes many of those courses during her training. Hope graduates and takes her Gyn/Ob residency training at a local hospital, using the residency program we have developed in partnership with the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics and Medical Women's International Association. Later, when she is in practice, she gets free Continuing Medical Education through NextGenU.org, and she is a clinical mentor every year to several medical students for their Gyn/Ob rotation.
How do I take exams?
You can take exams in one of two ways:
  • Directly supervised at your home institution. If you give us the name, job title, and email address of a University official who wishes to proctor your exam, we will email them your test to have you complete it online under their supervision.
  • Indirectly supervised anywhere. We can automatically generate multiple test validity metrics, including the amount of time taken for each question, other sites visited by your computer while you take the test, and a videotaped record of your test-taking.
What is the grading system for each course?
We offer no grades; we do offer certificates of completion and abundant metrics assessing your performance in the course vs. the performances of others. We offer to freely provide to you and your designees your final exam score (or scores, if you take it more than once), with comparisons between your scores and the average scores others taking the course, including specific comparisons with others at your level of training. In addition, you will be assessed by your peers and your mentor, and you must pass those activities to receive a certificate of completion (though you may retake them as often as you like, until you pass, having achieved competence). All of our trainings have sponsoring organizations that are certified by a national or international accrediting body as being authorized to provide courses for credit.

If you represent a university and would like to have customized metrics for a whole class of students, please contact at Research[at]NetGenU.org - we'd be delighted to collaborate.
How are students assessed?
Students are assessed in four different ways:
  • Self-assessment - Students complete questionnaires that help them reflect on what they have learned and to help them (and us) more deeply learn from their experience in the course.
  • Peer-to-peer assessment - Students interact with other students who are taking the same course. These peers may reside in the same geographic area; if this is the case, students may interact mainly in person. Regardless, students interact with others in the course via built-in real-time chat rooms, asynchronous forums, and other electronic media. Students will create, be peer-assessed, and perform peer-assessments on three multiple choice questions and on other peer-reviewed activities for each course. As this is a competency based system, students can re-do assignments until they pass all the criteria.
  • Mentor assessment - Except for basic science courses (where a mentor is optional), students interact with a mentor, ideally in-person (though distance mentoring is acceptable if available and no one is available locally), completing learning activities, observing, and getting valuable hands-on experience. At the end of the course, mentors will fill out a standardized questionnaire about the students’ skills, knowledge, behavior, and attitudes.
  • Objective knowledge assessment - Students take quizzes throughout the course, and a final multiple choice exam at the end of the course. The content of the quizzes and final exam come directly from the learning materials they were asked to study as part of each competency.
What are the hands-on learning activities?
The peer and mentored learning activities are practical experiences that will help you use what you learn in the NextGenU.org course. These exercises will help you learn more than you would just by reading a text or listening to a lecture, since you will actively discuss and practice important skills with your peers and/or mentor.
Are there any caveats to these answers?
These are our current best answers to a lot of questions that we and others have posed about better methods for higher education, methods that are consistently high-quality and that are free of cost, barriers, advertisements, and greenhouse gas emissions. We are actively piloting and refining these trainings with institutions from Bethesda to Nairobi, and we know that some of our current approaches will be supplanted by new, better ideas. The leaders of NextGenU.org have studied and taught at some of the finest educational institutions in the world, have considerable expertise in education, have worked with those with more expertise to help us refine and implement our ideas, and ask for your thoughts on how NextGenU.org can do better here.


Questions about mentors
Why do I need a mentor?
Learning online can be very efficient and convenient, but it often lacks the advantages of human contact. For all of our trainings (other than basic sciences), we require some one-to-one mentored activities so that you can directly learn from and interact with someone with experience in the subject - a critical component of an active, high-quality learning environment. We hope that this person will become a permanent part of your professional network.
How can I find a mentor?
A mentor should be a qualified expert in the field of your NextGenU.org course - they might be a professor at your university who is offering this training as a course under their supervision, or a local practicing professional who's willing to spend some time teaching you - we'll give you some examples in each course of a suitable level of training and practice for a mentor, and soon we'll have some other methods to help you find mentors.
How will the mentor know what to do?
Once you have identified an appropriate mentor and filled out the 5 item mentor registration (with their name, degrees, current practice in this topic, location, and email if any), we will email you and/or your mentor a small information package explaining their and your roles and responsibilities, and how they can best support you during your NextGenU.org course.
What if I can't find a mentor?
If you are not taking a NextGenU.org course for credit, you do not necessarily need to find a mentor.
How can I become a mentor?
There are lots of ways you can help supervise trainees. Because NextGenU.org is both free and comprehensive, we rely on our trainees' learning from local volunteer practitioners with whom they might help take care of patients if they're a medical student, or co-publish (at NextGenU.org) a case study on an interesting patient if they're an academic nurse in training, or co-author a letter to the editor of the local paper if they're studying a public health topic like Climate Change and Health. Mentors can also be volunteers who might remotely monitor chat rooms, or supervise distant trainees by Phone/Skype/Gchat - there's a section in each course showing names, locations, and profession/specialty for previous mentors.


Questions about peers
If I know someone who is taking the course with me, can we do the peer activities in person, instead of online?
If you know someone who is taking the same course and is living in the same geographic area as you, we encourage you to interact with your peers in person - but you still must upload your work to the online course and fill out the criteria-based assessment found online.
How do I get matched up with a peer online?
We'll automatically select them for you, ideally with peers who can write in your language of choice without using a tool like Google Translate to translate everyone's work into English.
How can I report a peer or mentor who is misbehaving?
We expect NextGenUsers to always act respectfully - please let us know at Rude[at]NextGenU.org about anyone behaving inappropriately.


How can I help?
How can I donate?
You can
to go to our PayPal donation site, or contact us at donations@nextgenu.org if you'd like to choose other ways to donate, including specifying if there's a particular existing training you'd like your funding to support the growth and maintenance of, and for you to suggest new trainings that you'd like to see supported.
How can I create a new training with NextGenU.org?
So glad you asked! Please send us a brief email to NewTraining[at]NextGenU.org answering these questions:
  • what topic will the training address?
  • who are the likely learners and why is this training needed?
  • who could do the work of identifying the online resources, designing the peer and mentored activities, and/or creating an initial bank of multiple choice questions?
  • what are this proposed team's credentials, experiences, and aspirations that compel them to propose this training?