Free Online Course Offerings Grow in Abundance and Popularity

More universities make free courses available as part of public-service mission.


So what impacts do these free online courses have on the classroom experiences in universities? Hubbard says that at Berkeley, he has heard professors who post their video lectures online say that students in the classroom are engaging in a different way. Instead of being buried in their texts and taking notes, the professors say they can actually see students' faces listening and absorbing the lecture. The professors say this is because the students know they can go back and watch the video lectures later if they want to review material. Kleiner says she may assign her own online video lectures as homework and then incorporate the lectures into class discussions. She also says that thanks to the liberal licensing of the online courses, she has seen educators around the world repurposing the content to teach in their own classrooms. 

These free online educational resources are also helping to break down the financial and geographical barriers that can limit access to education. "At some level, these courses are helping to democratize knowledge," says Dan Colman, the associate dean and director of the Stanford Continuing Studies program. "Suddenly, knowledge that was fairly specialized is available to anyone with Internet access. It doesn't matter how much money you have or where you live; it's accessible now." 

The Down-Low on Online Downloading Sites: 

iTunes U- This multimedia file-sharing site contains more than 250,000 educational video and audio files from more than 600 universities, including Yale, MIT, Cambridge, and Oxford. The launch of iTunes 9 has made iTunes U accessible in 77 countries with Apple Stores. Additionally, iTunes U content can be searched and wirelessly downloaded onto an iPhone or an iPod touch. 

YouTube EDU- This education-specific YouTube channel created in October 2007 provides more than 60,000 videos from over 300 colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and India, according to Obadiah Greenberg, the strategic partner manager at YouTube. He says the mission of the site is "to facilitate the distribution of open educational resources to a worldwide audience." 

Academic Earth- Founded by Yale graduate Richard Ludlow in January 2009, the site has around 3,500 videos from 110 courses provided by 10 universities located around the world. Ludlow says the site has had more than 6 million visitors. He says the site hosts only select, complete video courses that have high production quality. 

Open Culture- Dan Colman of the Stanford Continuing Studies program founded the site in 2006 to provide free audio books, online courses, movies, language lessons, and E-books. The site has more than 250 courses from institutions of higher education around the globe.

Corrected on : Corrected on 02/17/10: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of videos offered on Academic Earth. The correct number is 3,500 videos. Additionally, the earlier version may have given an incorrect impression about the source of Stanford’s free online courses; many programs at Stanford contribute to the university’s free courses on the Web.