OpenCourseWare: Take a Class at MIT…FOR FREE | Quicken Loans BlogYou probably think I’m joking, but I’m not. You really can take college courses free online from top universities all around the world. It’s a trend sweeping the Internet called OpenCourseWare.

OpenCourseWare (OCW) started in the late 1990s as an education movement in Germany. The goal was to increase the amount of credible information available on the Internet. Later in 2002, Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) joined the program and started releasing course documents online. As a result, OpenCourseWare’s popularity gained notability and credibility with scholars.

Since then, hundreds of other universities jumped on board and millions of people have taken advantage of OpenCourseWare. In fact, MIT alone estimates that as of November 2012, “more than 100 million individuals have accessed OCW materials.”

Curious what universities participate in the OpenCourseWare program? Here are just a few:

  • Arizona State University
  • Beijing Normal University
  • Kaplin Online University & Campus Learning
  • Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Michigan State University
  • UC Berkley
  • University of California, Irvine
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Tokyo

I use OpenCourseWare to learn more about history and writing, or just generally whatever piques my interest. Right now, I’m taking a class about the history of the western United States offered by the University of Michigan. The Zip file contains Power Point presentations to PDF books and articles used from the class. Other courses also have audio or video lectures, as well as quizzes and test materials.

You can use OCW to explore your own areas of personal interest or even use it to investigate a new career path. It can also help you figure out your college major if you haven’t picked one yet. From medical courses to history lectures, these free resources let you explore many academic disciplines without wasting your tuition savings.

I know you’re thinking, “There has to be at least ONE drawback.” Well, yeah, there are a couple. Firstly, these classes aren’t for-credit classes that count towards a degree, much like LifeLong Learning classes. Secondly, some of the course material out there is a few years old. For technology fields, like computer programing, the information in these courses might be dated.

Likewise, pay attention to two things if you plan to use OCW. Most of the courses let you work at your own pace, but others offer more structure. Also, since universities all over the world offer OCW, classes come in a variety of languages. It’s pretty obvious, but don’t pick a course taught in a language you don’t understand.

Sure, there are a few drawbacks to OpenCourseWare classes. But you can’t beat having access to information from world-renowned universities at your finger tips. If you’re thinking about changing careers, just want to learn something new or need to pick a college major fast, give OpenCourseWare a shot. Why not try it? It’s totally free, so you’ve got nothing to lose!

Did you know OpenCourseWare existed? Share your thoughts with other Zing readers!

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