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15 Inspiring Examples of Free Online Education


The Internet is full of free and open educational resources, from courses to academic journals, and with so many education providers getting in on the movement to offer free educational content online, there's likely to be even more in the future. Yale, Stanford, MIT, and Berkeley are just a few of the high-profile universities that share some of their best courses with the world for the low, low price of zero dollars. While there are a lot of great resources out there, there are some online education resources that truly stand out as inspiring, for their vast collections, unique perks, and incredibly supportive organizations. We've picked out 15 open education resources that we find to be the most impressive and inspiring out there, and we encourage you to take advantage of what they have to offer.

  1. Khan Academy

    If you want to learn about anything in the world, chances are, you can find out about it from Khan Academy. The free educational organization offers more than 2,700 video lectures and tutorials, in subjects as diverse as finance and cosmology. Founded by MIT graduate Salman Khan, the site's mission is "providing a high quality education to anyone, anywhere." Khan Academy really stands out for the unique, low-tech format that the videos offer, where diagrams and doodles share information, rather than talking heads. In addition to videos, students can exercise their knowledge through a web based system that offers problems based on skill level and performance. For hands-on help, students can get peer-to-peer tutoring based on objective data collected by the system. The academy has a goal to reach tens of thousands of videos on every subject, creating "the world's first free, world-class virtual school where anyone can learn anything."

  2. MIT Open Courseware

    MIT's Open Courseware is easily one of the most well-known and highly utilized resources of free online learning. In fact, the program has nearly reached 11 years of service, with an anniversary coming up this year on April 4th. MIT boasts a whopping 2,000 open courses, ranging from calculus to philosophy. Since its inception, this project has been an amazing resource for free online learning, but it's recently been made even more exciting. In December 2011, MIT announced that through an initiative called MITx they will offer credentials to those who study their free open courses and demonstrate mastery of content. Certificates will be available for a "modest fee," and although they will not result in degrees or course credit from MIT, this recognition can prove useful in professional fields and beyond.

  3. Berkeley Webcast

    Berkeley has made it incredibly easy to learn wherever you are with its webcast initiative. Through Berkeley Webcast, anyone can find video and audio of full undergraduate courses, as well as on-campus events. Started in 1995, Berkeley's site now has more than 100 full courses available in an easy to use format, including streaming audio and podcasting. Berkeley has begun to branch out past its own site, even, assigning a Creative Commons license to its materials, and sharing certain webcasts on iTunesU and YouTube, so they can be easily enjoyed and learned from worldwide. Berkeley's resources have been wildly popular: just in 2006, lectures on Berkeley's site were viewed 4.3 million times.

  4. Tufts OpenCourseWare

    Tufts University's OCW project offers an incredible resource for health sciences education, with courses from the university's school of medicine, dental medicine, school of veterinary medicine, and more. But Tufts offers so much more than just free and open courses. Tufts' OCW is just one part of a large Open Educational Resources movement on campus, which most importantly includes the Tufts University Sciences Knowledgebase (TUSK). The TUSK knowledge management system shares an amazing body of knowledge of health information, including curricular materials and other resources for learning in the health sciences. Tufts offers other online learning resources as well, including websites and digital library resources that offer information for medical professionals, patients, and families, all free and open for anyone to enjoy.

  5. OpenCourseWare Consortium

    MIT, Berkeley, Yale, and other great Open Courseware collections show what individual universities can do for open education, but the Open Courseware Consortium brings together the power of 250 universities and organizations worldwide. Together, OCW Consortium members have published more than 13,000 courses, all available through the consortium's website. But the great availability of courses isn't all they offer: members (and even non-members) benefit from resources for developing open courseware projects, collaboration, and efforts to continue developing the free and open exchange of ideas and education.

  6. Academic Earth

    Like the Open Courseware Consortium, Academic Earth represents the combined effort of several different universities and organizations. MIT, Berkeley, UCLA, Harvard, and more have all made their video lectures available free on the Academic Earth website. Academic Earth is designed to make it easy to access the vast array of educational lectures available online, particularly those from Ivy League and well respected universities. Self learners and students can take advantage of this amazing resource to find free learning from some of the best lecturers in academia, and it's all easily accessible and organized thanks to Academic Earth.

  7. Textbook Revolution

    So far, we've profiled mainly free online education resources that specialize in courses and lectures, but most students know there's much more to learning than just what's covered in class. That's where Textbook Revolution comes in, with an incredible amount of free and open textbooks available online through the site. Where students might otherwise have to pay hundreds of dollars for books on campus, Textbook Revolution makes it easy to search for free and open alternatives. Run by students, Textbook Revolution makes free educational materials available to students, teachers, and professors, along with reviews to help you choose the best one for you. They're all in a searchable database, available as PDF, e-book, and even multimedia content. For those who prefer a curated collection, Textbook Revolution does offer both courses and collections by topic and level.

  8. Project Gutenberg

    Textbooks are just one kind of book, but Project Gutenberg offers every type of book imaginable, from reference books to novels. Every book available through the Project Gutenberg site can be offered for free because the copyrights on them have expired. That means all of their ebooks were previously published, and are of high quality. This resource is of particular interest to those who are studying classic literature, as there are many famous books available on the site. Sherlock Holmes, Huckleberry Finn, even Grimm's Fairy Takes are among the most popular books on the site, and can come in quite handy for literature students and other scholars. Math, science, and other subjects are well represented as well, highlighted with bookshelves that point out all of the resources available in a specific category, like science, or fine arts. In all, Project Gutenberg boasts a whopping 36,000 free ebooks available to download to your PC, Kindle, Android, iOS and other portable devices, making it amazingly easy to read just about anything on-the-go, for free.

  9. iTunesU

    Most students are familiar with iTunes, the program Apple offers for organizing and moving movies, music, and yes, even classes to your iPod, iPhone, or iPad. iTunes is inspiring in its ubiquity, ease of use, and opportunity for wide distribution among learners. With educational content available in the iTunes store and available to roughly 500 million users, institutions can share their vast resources with so many people at once, it's simply amazing. Public resources in iTunesU are accessible to all students, and can be downloaded one at a time, or subscribed to for automatic downloading. iTunesU is even packed with features to help students with disabilities use the resources as well. Additionally, students can access resources on-the-fly, downloading courses, lectures, and other resources in the iTunes app, gaining access without even needing to use a computer. iTunesU is full of high quality educational resources, including public sites from Yale, Cambridge, Stanford, Oxford, and MIT, as well as broadcasters like PBS.

  10. OpenLearn

    The Open University, established in 1969, has always been notable for its open entry policy, but starting in October 2006, the school's open policy took on a whole new meaning. With OpenLearn, The Open University has shared a number of its educational materials with the world. The university uses a Moodle-based learning environment with more than 400 structured media-rich study units, aided with the availability of instant messaging, video conferencing, forums, and more for students to connect and collaborate. Perhaps what makes OpenLearn so inspirational is that it's truly an open educational environment, where users can download, modify, translate, and adapt the material. Students can also build profiles and learning journals, while also leaving ratings for courses, pointing out the best content for future students.

  11. WatchKnowLearn

    There are so many open educational resources at the university level, but many K-12 resources are limited. But WatchKnowLearn is an inspiring example of the great resources that do exist for young learners, offering a huge collection of educational videos for schoolchildren. The website organizes and aggregates educational videos found online, and offers a platform for users to share their original educational content. The site has more than 50,000 educational videos available to users, with more coming on each day. Users can be a part of this aggregation, instantly adding videos from other sites using a toolbar, and can even review videos, assigning them to appropriate subject and age categories for easy browsing.

  12. University of the People

    The University of the People is simply amazing, as the world's first tuition-free online university. The school works similarly to the aforementioned MITx, where students do not have to pay tuition or access fees for courses, but they do require application and exam fees. Although University of the People's online education resources are not 100% free when it comes to earning course credit or a degree, for what they're offering, it might as well be. The university offers degrees at the associate and bachelor level, and is in the process of accreditation. University of the People is particularly inspiring for its approach in supporting students in developing countries, with a commitment to helping students overcome geographic and financial limitations that might otherwise deprive them of higher learning. Through social networking, collaborative learning, and open educational resources, students can take advantage of the vast resources offered by this university, which is backed by Yale, NYU, the United Nations, as well as other organizations, along with a faculty and staff of current and former instructors and educational professionals from traditional universities.

  13. TED

    Ideas are an incredibly important part of learning, and TED believes in spreading those ideas through wildly entertaining and inspiring talks given by some of the most remarkable people in the world. Through TED, Steve Jobs explains "how to live before you die," JJ Abrams explains the appeal of the unknown, and JK Rowling discusses the positive points of failure. TED offers talks that are not just traditionally educational, but full of life enrichment as well. Some of the world's most fascinating people share their knowledge with the world on TED, and we challenge anyone to soak in a few talks without being inspired to know more and live more passionately.

  14. Wikiversity

    Wikimedia, and the more well known Wikipedia, exist to share the world's knowledge and resources with anyone who is interested in them. Through Wikiversity, learning resources, projects, and research are organized to share with worldwide learners of all levels, from preschool to university. In addition to learning resources is a learning community, in which educators, students, and researchers can create open educational resources and connect in collaborative learning. Wikiversity has over 17,000 learning resources, and continues to grow.

  15. Instructables

    All of the examples we've shared so far focus on topics that you might learn in traditional education settings, but Instructables earns a spot on this special list for the amazing way it makes street smarts available to the everyman. Using the site, people can discover how to do just about anything, from making bread to constructing steampunk goggles. Instructables shares the wisdom of the Internet, calling upon users to submit instructions for making or doing anything they can dream up. This site is particularly impressive because even with just a quick browse, it makes you feel like you could do and know just about anything with the right set of instructions.

January 22nd, 2012 written by Site Administrator

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