Take College Courses For Free Online

Adam Heckler is a twenty-something Cincinnati, Ohio local working in the education technology sector. Most of his time is spent at VARtek Services where he writes for the blog, manages social media, and advises K12 s

One of the trends that’s been emerging out of higher education in the past year or so is the increasing number of universities that are looking to put classes online for consumption by the general public. While web-based classes aren’t exactly new, this time even the big Ivy League institutions are taking part.

Just last month, Stanford, Penn, and three other universities announced that they’d partnered with a education technology startup by the name of Coursera out of Silicon Valley. Together they put a variety of classes online, ranging in subject from history to statistics to health policy.

Udacity is another organization that offers a few online classes, although they tend to focus on computer science topics, so they may not appeal to quite as many people.

And did I mention there is no money involved whatsoever? I know you like that as much as I do!


I took a look at Coursera myself a few months ago and signed up for one of the very first classes they offered, Model Thinking. Taught by Scott E. Page at the University of Michigan, the course was definitely challenging but at the same time deeply interesting. I’d never previously taken an online course, so there was a bit of an adjustment period, but once you get past that it’s not very different than any other class.

The advantages of online courses are numerous as well:

  • As I mentioned above, they tend to be 100% free of charge, at least for now.
  • By virtue of being online, you can “attend” class from anywhere and at any time.
  • You have a much larger number of virtual “classmates” to discuss and study with.

Now don’t be mistaken, some universities have offered online classes before, but they tended to be just lectures uploaded to YouTube. These courses, however, are much more interactive. They offer large discussion forums that the professor and his or her assistants actively participate in, as well as quizzes inserted into the videos so you can make sure you understand the topic at hand.

Coursera Video

In some ways, the most interesting part about Coursera and Udacity is how the same concept of cheap (or free!) decentralized classes might potentially be applied to the K12 world. There may be a niche for similar offerings there, maybe targeted toward younger student who could not attend a physical school for financial or health-related reason.

The popular site The Khan Academy is probably the most famous venture into online K12 learning to date. While it doesn’t have the exact same format as Coursera and Udacity, it is nevertheless being piloted by schools across the country as an innovative approach to educating todays students.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve used any of these sites and what you thought of them!

[Images courtesy of Flickr (algogenius) and Coursera (press kit)]

  • 10kjuan

    YouTube Education (http://www.youtube.com/education) does a pretty good job of aggregating a lot of these as well (Khan Academy, e.g.), and allows you to add your own content if you’re a teacher. Worth a look, lots of potential. OpenLearn is pretty good as well (http://www.open.edu/openlearn/). Great post :)

    • http://www.adamheckler.com/ Adam Heckler

      Agreed, YouTube has a ton of good stuff out there. Also interesting is P2PU: http://p2pu.org/en

      Thanks for commenting! :-)