In recent days, I attended another college graduation, completing my 35th year as a college faculty member. For many, an appropriate college education is a key to personal success, while many others may benefit from other forms of education. In a recent “60 Minutes” segment (www.cbsnews.com ), the PayPal founder and original financier of Facebook, billionaire Peter Thiel, questioned the necessity of a college education for many people, saying the cost of higher education is too high for many students, resulting in a trillion dollars student loan debt, much of which will never be repaid.
In the dozen years that I have been writing this column, I have been a strong proponent of “free,” whether it is software or other technology related services. While it will not lead to a college degree, and typically is done on a non-credit basis, there are many of the world’s top universities and colleges, as well as other organizations, that offer totally free college courses, lectures, and educational materials to the general public. These free non-credit courses aren’t a substitute for an accredited sheepskin, but they are a source of valuable information beneficial for business, professional or personal use and advancement. Among the world recognized sources of these free educational opportunities include the likes of MIT, Duke University, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame, Yale, Tufts, Stanford, Brigham Young, Oxford, Case Western, and many others. While much of this free education is provided by major universities, a large amount of it is also provided by other organizations, such as the Khan Academy (3,200 free lessons online at khanacademy.org) and Apple’s iTunes University (see The Examiner, Oct. 14, 2011), as well as government agencies, educational Web sites and other sources.
In a recent update on Gizmo’s TechSupportAlert.com, its weekly “Finds of the Week (May 14, 2012)” reviewed a Web site that is a little dated (2010) but is still current in its content. This Web site, “12 Dozen Places To Educate Yourself Online For Free” at www.marcandangel.com , contains a listing and summary of 144 resources that offer free educational material, including entire courses, lectures, materials, and other valuable resources. According to “Marc,” the author of the Web site, “Those people who take the time and initiative to pursue knowledge on their own are the only ones who earn a real education in this world. Take a look at any widely acclaimed scholar, entrepreneur or historical figure you can think of. Formal education or not, you’ll find that he or she is a product of continuous self-education.” This compilation of information makes it easy for those who thirst for knowledge to locate relevant and free educational coursework.One of the first institutions listed offering free online coursework was MIT, which offers 2,100 free courses in many fields of study, and includes free lecture notes, exams and videos; there is no registration required. Among the 36 MIT departments offering free online coursework are aeronautics and astronautics, architecture, biological engineering, chemical engineering, chemistry, civil and environmental engineering, earth sciences, economics, electrical engineering, computer science, health sciences, history, mathematics, physics, political science, the Sloan School of Management, and many other departments. Clicking on any of the MIT departments will display a list of available courses, with each course offering a direct download of its material.
Harvard Medical School’s Open Courseware Initiative offers free materials from about 120 medical school courses in a wealth of medical areas. Some of these courses include genetics, neonatology, OB-GYN, medical ethics, pediatrics, community health, pharmacology, oral health, human anatomy, and many other relevant areas.
Yale University offers about 50 free “Open Yale Courses” from 23 academic departments (oyc.yale.edu). According to the Yale Web site, “Open Yale Courses 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 formats. Registration is not required. No course credit, degree or certificate is available.” I experimented on the Open Yale Courses Web site, and opened the “History HIST 116 – The American Revolution” course and found that all of the professor’s classroom lectures were video and audio recorded. The videos for this course (and all other Yale courses) can be viewed on the Yale Web site, on YouTube or on iTunes. The videos can also be downloaded from the course Web site (warning: the file sizes may be very large) in MOV format. Lecture transcripts are also available in HTML format, and the audio recordings of the lectures can be heard online or downloaded in MP3 format. I teach economics classes every semester and was interested to see what Yale was teaching, so I viewed Yale’s ECON 252 – Financial Markets course. In addition to the videos, audios and lecture transcripts, the professor’s PowerPoint slides were also available for viewing or download in PDF format. With about 50 complete courses in 23 academic disciplines (departments) available, the Open Yale Courses might offer something to everyone.
The University of California – San Diego (podcast.ucsd.edu) offers podcasts and videos from about 250 of its courses, including many from the just completed spring 2012 semester. The available podcasts cover the academic gamut from economics to ancient history; from neuroanatomy to endocrinology; and from psychology to calculus. Each of the 250 courses listed is broken down into individual class sessions, with the available recordings made during those classes. The podcasts can be listened to online or downloaded in MP3 format. The videos can also be viewed online or downloaded in MP4 format. I listened to some of the economics podcasts, and may incorporate some of the material in my classes.
For those interested in law, several renowned law schools have posted many of their courses, lectures, and related material online. Some of the better-known law schools that have done this include Duke, Boston College, Case Western Reserve, Harvard and Stanford. Case Western Reserve (www.law.case.edu ) has posted Webcasts of dozens of recent law lectures including Webcasts of intellectual property issues, Guantanamo tribunals, Internet law, government regulations, medical malpractice, and other contemporary topics. Stanford University (itunes.stanford.edu) has posted its courses on Apple’s iTunes University where they can be viewed using an iTunes application. Harvard Law School has a variety of contemporary and archived lectures available on its Web site (www.law.harvard.edu ), YouTube and at iTunes University.
While not a direct substitute for credit coursework at a college or university, this information might be useful to acquire new knowledge, enhance existing knowledge, or provide reinforcement and review for current academic coursework. With the broad assortment of free non-credit courses, lectures, podcasts, videos, PowerPoint slides, and other educational information and materials freely available from many reputable sources, this is another example of the positive aspect of the Internet making helpful information freely available to all.
Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.