My first answer is duh. Everyone is currently talking about Stanford’s new Engineering Everywhere program that allows individuals around the world to virtually attend the physical engineering class online. For a moment I was giddy with excitement. After I graduate (which isn’t for some time yet) I would have a chance to secretly attempt another CS course after my public formal approach. Tens of thousands of people were (and are) enrolling in these classes. The Chronicle and other sources have hailed this to be the dawn of a new era in learning from a well established university.
And then I realized that free classes have been around for quite a while. I’m glad the unique set of Stanford CS courses, and the distinctive way it’s being offered, stand as a reminder of how easy it actually is to get a free quality education through the Internet. Although Youtube can teach us many things, universities of Stanford’s caliber have been trying to share their knowledge online for quite a while.
A simple search for free online classes from universities not only brought me to many sites listing the top websites to get an elite education in biology, it also led me to an older but still exhaustive article on LifeHacker.com that goes through many of the colleges that offer a free online education. MIT’s site alone offers over 2000 courses.
Other websites and groups are also making a splash in the college education pool. The Khan Academy is becoming more and more famous for the amount of subjects it covers and the practice exercises students take. Other ignored gems are all the offerings on iTunes U. Stanford itself has quite a collection of downloadable audio tracks and videos.
Some people reading this may be shaking their fist at me – these sites aren’t like Engineering Everywhere. “Students,” who don’t even get to formally enroll in any of the courses, don’t get grades. They don’t watch the same lectures as the students residing on the physical campus. They don’t get certificates with the Stanford name on it. It’s not the same. SEE is greater than everything presented before and it’s changing things.
I know all these things. I’m even a bit proud that Stanford professors were willing to take the first step and open up their virtual classroom doors to learners worldwide. But I also think it’s easy to forget the free college-level classes that individuals have had access to for years. People who are eager to learn subjects other than engineering may not have as complete a package but there are offerings out there if they choose to take advantage of them.