Take Online College Courses for Free

Do you miss the intellectual stimulation of college classes? Do you have an inner politico or engineer needing attention? If I had my druthers, I’d be a full-time student for the rest of my life. With the help of the Internet, continuing education has become far more attainable and even free.

More colleges and universities are making classes available online than ever before. You can spend as much or as little time as you have available to pursue your interests. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about cramming for finals or whether you qualify for in-state tuition because the lectures are free. None of the websites below offers credit for their classes, so you won’t have continuing education credits to add to your resume. However, taking classes in your career area, or picking up a tidbit of interesting information may help you make a great first impression or stand out in an interview.

Academic Earth

Academic Earth is an online college of lectures given at top colleges and universities around the country including MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Academic Earth has an impressive array of video lectures that include a variety of topics. One evening, the editor’s picks included a Yale lectures called “The New Testament as History,” an oceanography lesson from UCLA, a Harvard lecture on the morality of murder, the nerve supply to teeth from Michigan and an introduction to chemical engineering from Stanford. While I have to admit I’m not counting down the minutes until I get off work to learn about nerves in my teeth, the wide range of lectures almost guarantee you will be able to find something interesting.

Another feature unique to Academic Earth is the grading system. No, you don’t have to worry about cramming for a test at the end of the video. You, and other users, get to grade the lectures that you watch. Each video starts with a B and then adjusts based on user feedback. Some of the videos are grouped into courses, and the courses also receive a grade.

Yale’s Open Course Site

Yale University offers a number of online courses that are free to anyone who wants to watch. The site offers a similar array of courses to Academic Earth’s except that all are from Yale professors. While users are free to watch just one video, all the videos on the Yale site are all part of a larger course. Each “course” has a syllabus, series of videos and even problem sets (and answer sheets) that you can use to gauge your own learning. Like the Stanford engineering site (see below), this is about as close as you can get to an actual course without being there.

Open Education Resources

The OER website offers by far the largest range of educational levels, offering some college lectures like the other websites being reviewed, but also offering K-12 materials as well. This can make OER a great resource for teachers looking for lesson plans or parents looking for enrichment activities for their kids. One drawback is the massive size of the website can make it harder to find exactly what you’re looking for. For example, in early March 2010, there were over 17,500 science and technology materials alone. If you know exactly what you’re looking for, chances are you’ll find it (or at least something close). However, if you’re just browsing, chances are you’ll end up lost. Especially if you are looking to find a college level lecture, you’re probably better off at one of the other sites being reviewed.

Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE)

Stanford has launched a program to release several computer engineering courses. These courses are similar to the courses offered by Yale, but limit the offerings to computer engineering topics including artificial intelligence and linear systems and optimization. With these courses, no registration is necessary and you can work at your own pace. However, like the other sites, you do not get to talk to professors if you have questions. If you’ve got a passion for computer engineering, this is a great site. If not, head to Yale or Academic Earth for a wider range of options for furthering your education.

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