With the advance of computer technology, it is no longer necessary for students to live in college dorms and walk the halls of brick and mortar institutions. More and more students are using e-books, multimedia, and the Internet to learn at home. Distance learning is the name attached to a type of study that uses the Internet to provide college-level training to students all around the world.
What if you can’t afford to pay for tuition? No problem! A high quality education doesn’t have to come at a high cost. In fact, it’s possible to take classes from top universities like MIT, Yale, and Tufts without ever submitting an application. Many of the best universities are now offering online courses to the general public free of charge. This is a noble effort compatible with the age-old ideals of scholarship and free inquiry, but all thanks to modern technology.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a longtime leader in shared intellectual property in academia, initiated an OpenCourseWare program in 2002. This initiative is what inspired a number of other institutions to make their course materials available as open educational resources.
OpenCourseWare is based on the idea that all humans are endowed with a capacity to learn, improve, and progress. The OpenCourseWare movement seeks to provide people around the world with an opportunity to access high quality learning opportunities, assuring that no individual who is prepared and who desires to advance his or her education is turned away. Such classes are suitable for people who want to enhance their personal knowledge or advance in their current field, and as a starting point for self-directed higher education.
The only catch is that these are not degree-granting or credit-bearing programs and you will not have access to faculty, but you can work through the materials at your own pace and in whatever manner you desire. Ideal for homeschooling high school, the student can choose from an assortment of core courses and electives, and in some cases can combine modules to create a customized academic course. The parent can monitor their child’s progress and assign an applicable grade, just as with any homeschool curriculum. An added bonus is that a college-level class looks impressive on a high school transcript.
Some institutions of higher learning, such as MIT, specifically look for students who are motivated self-learners, show initiative, and take advantage of advanced classes such as these. The following list ranks ten of the best free OpenCourseWare university programs available today.
http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm – MIT offers the largest selection by far, with over 2,000 university classes available online free of charge. Lecture notes, exams, audio and videos represent almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT. Translated into a number of different languages, students all over the world use MIT’s OpenCourseWare. High school students and educators should check out “Highlights for High School,” the most useful MIT courses for high schoolers: http://ocw.mit.edu/high-school . See also MIT’s OpenCourseWare videos on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/MIT
http://cnx.org – The Connexions program at Rice University is another pioneer in the idea of open educational resources. Their Content Commons contains educational materials for everyone – from children to college students to professionals – organized in small modules that are easily connected into larger collections or courses. Connexions modules are like small “knowledge chunks” and collections are groups of modules structured into books, course notes, or other uses. Their open license allows for free use and reuse of all content. Browse by subject, popularity, title, author, etc. Subjects include Arts, Business, Humanities, Social Sciences, Mathematics & Statistics, Science & Technology.
http://openlearn.open.ac.uk – The Open University is the UK’s largest academic institution, giving everyone free access to both undergraduate and graduate-level course materials. Courses cover a wide range of topics such as the arts, history, business, education, IT and computing, mathematics and statistics, science, health and technology. In the Learning Space, you will find hundreds of free study units, each with a discussion forum. Study independently at your own pace or join a group and use the free learning tools to work with others.
http://ocw.tufts.edu – Tufts OpenCourseWare provides free courseware and classes including assignments, lecture notes, supplementary materials and other resources. Tufts’ course offerings demonstrate the University’s strength in the life and health sciences. Courses are sorted by school (i.e. School of Arts and Sciences, School of Medicine, etc.).
http://oli.web.cmu.edu/openlearning – Carnegie Mellon University offers a number of free online courses and materials through a program called Open Learning Initiative. OLI courses are intended to allow anyone at an introductory college level to learn about a particular subject without formal instruction. Course options include: statistics, biology, biochemistry, chemistry, economics, French, logic, and physics. Independent learners can get free materials, activities, and assessments for self-guided studies; while instructors can customize these courses to suit their students’ needs.
http://ocw.usu.edu – Utah State University OpenCourseWare provides an unprecedented degree of free and open access to the knowledge and expertise of Utah State faculty for the benefit of every citizen in the state of Utah and every person in the world. The wide range of available courses includes everything from anthropology to physics, Instructional Technology & Learning Sciences, and theatre arts to wildland resources. Consisting of the same educational material used in on-campus courses, these comprehensive text-based courses can be downloaded as zip files or viewed directly on the site.
https://open.umich.edu/education – A collection of openly licensed educational resources from the University of Michigan ranging from course materials to videos to software tools to student work; all content is ready for downloading and remixing.
http://oyc.yale.edu – Yale University, one of the nation’s leading Ivy League institutions, provides free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn. All lectures were recorded in the Yale College classroom and are available in video, audio, and text transcript format.
http://itunes.stanford.edu – Stanford University, one of the world’s leading private research institutions, has joined forces with iTunes in providing access to Stanford courses, lectures and interviews offered as iTunes U. These courses can be downloaded and played on iPods, PCs, and Macs and can also be burned to CDs.
http://webcast.berkeley.edu/courses.php – UC Berkeley, well known for its progressive tendencies, has been offering webcasts of certain courses since 2001. Hundreds of UC Berkeley courses, both current and archived, are now available as podcasts and webcasts. Courses cover a wide range of subjects including astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer programming, engineering, psychology, legal studies, and philosophy.
http://ocw.uci.edu – UC Irvine in Orange County, CA, one of the nation’s top public universities, joined the OpenCourseWare Consortium in 2006. Since then, its list of university level courses offered online free of charge has been growing rapidly with the addition of about ten new courses every month. Many of their online course offerings are directed at working adults seeking continuing education. In addition, they also provide students and self learners around the globe with access to UCI faculty-created undergraduate and graduate courses that are currently being taught to matriculated UCI students. Course categories include: Business and Management, Education, Engineering, Health Sciences, Humanities, Information & Computer Sciences, Law, Physical Sciences, Social Ecology, and Social Sciences. Course materials include syllabi, lecture notes, assignments and exams.
While the above sources are the most comprehensive, many other colleges and universities also make selected courses available online for free. So if you haven’t found your favorite subject at the universities in this list, try doing a Google search. By using the right combination of keywords, you may be able to locate course syllabi, lectures, tutorials, notes, podcasts, and online books. Let us know if you find something good!
For additional online curriculum and courses, many of which are free, go to: http://www.knowledgehouse.info/online.html