Before leaving the topic of sources for free learning, I wanted to highlight some other options you can look into if you’re trying to put together your own college education (or are just interested in exploring more ways to educate yourself a no cost).
Canvas.net is another organization offering access to free classes on a variety of mostly academic subjects. I’ll have more to say about them after I finish my first Canvas course during my Sophomore year (which ends in June). But at first glance, they seem to offer many of the same components that you would find in other MOOC providers.
Another interesting option is Udemy which, unlike companies such as Coursera, EdX, or Udacity, allows anyone to post their own course and add whatever lectures and other content they like. A fair number of their courses would probably fall into the category of online training, similar to what you would find from companies such as the popular Lynda.COM paysite (which offers video-based training on hundreds of software products, as well as other creative and business skills).
Udemy gives their contributors the option to charge for courses (with course fees shared with the platform provider), but a fair number of their humanities and social sciences courses are available at no cost. Again, I’ll be able to say more when I complete my first Udemy class in the Spring, but given the large number of individuals and institutions trying to get into the MOOC game, it’s likely open systems like Udemy’s will provide outlets for gifted teachers interested in “doing-it-themselves,” rather than going through the processes required by one of the larger MOOC providers.
Rounding out the list of organizations I’ll be using during the first half of my Degree of Freedom project (and, I suspect, the second half as well), I’ve previously mentioned two companies that have been providing free or low-cost access to quality college lectures for years: The Teaching Company (with their Great Courses series) and Modern Scholar. And I’d like to say a few more words about them since they are often overlooked in all of the excitement about newer Internet-driven options.
The Teaching Company has been around since 1990 when it was founded by Thomas Rollins (former Chief Council for the US Senate Committee on Labor and Human Relations) who saw the “new media” of the day (video and audio tape) as a means to provide access to some of the country’s best classrooms.
Today, the company’s Great Courses series (which tops 500 courses , with a heavy focus on academic subjects such as Science and Math, History, Fine Arts and Music, Religion and Philosophy) is available via CD, DVD and Internet download (all advertised regularly in the Sunday New York Times Book Review section).
The reason I include them (and their main competitor Modern Scholar, offered via Recorded Books) as a free option is that a large percentage of their material can be borrowed from public libraries. And given the flexibility of inter-library loan these days, I have yet to find a Teaching Company or Modern Scholar course I’ve wanted to take that required me to pay.
Traditionally, these courses have been bought or borrowed by self-motivated learners who wanted to listen to them during commutes (much like “books on tape”), which may explain why they tend to not be included in discussions of alternatives to the traditional college experience. The fact that they offer no reading requirements, homework or assessments (although Modern Scholar does make mention of final exams being available from their site – which I presume consists of essay questions you’re free to do on your own) may be another reason they are not seen as competitors to newer MOOC vendors.
But like iTunes U, these two options offer access to a wealth of traditional lecture content on a wide range of subjects. And since these companies both vet their teachers and require them to work within established formats (usually 30-minute lectures for Great Courses, 45-minute for Modern Scholar), there tends to be more consistency and higher production values for these materials than in any other lecture source I’ve seen to date.
Given that their classes fit such standardized templates, success or failure is almost 100% based on the quality of the instructor. And while I’ve encountered a few duds (which I quickly abandoned), for the most these classes have all been as good (and sometimes better) than anything I’ve taken from newer entrants into the free education field.
And like iTunes U lecture-only offerings, there is nothing stopping me (or anyone else) from creating my own reading list to accompany any of these classes (although large survey classes – like one I just completed on the Modern Intellectual Tradition – are challenging with regard to knowing where to start).
Later in the year, I’ll explore options to supplement lecture-only offerings with some of the elements needed to make such classes more comprehensive vis-à-vis the full packages of course materials associated with modern MOOCs.
But until then, I urge you to include them in your list as you think through how much you can learn for free, just as I’ll be including them in my own Degree of Freedom curriculum.