Note: Free learning opportunities have skyrocketed in recent years. I actually wrote this post some years ago – before Khan Academy, MOOCs, and all sorts of other options came along. It’s past due for an update. I’ll be working on one soon, so if you have resources you would like to see added here – or updates/perspectives on the ones already listed – please be sure to comment or contact me.
I’ve been a fan of open education for some time and recently have been intrigued by the revival of the “free” business model debate by Chris Anderson and Kevin Kelly, among others. So, conflating the two, I decided to undertake what turned into a “pulling a thread on a sweater” exercise and see how much free learning I could find on the Web relatively quickly. I’ve included some notes and observations on this exercise below, but first I’ll cut to the chase and offer a brief table of contents for what follows:
Now for the notes and observations:
First, this is obviously nowhere near a comprehensive list. There are who knows how many sites out there, and for the purposes of this post, I have confined myself to sites that offer relatively formalized free learning experiences and state this as their explicit purpose. Truth is, there is almost no place on the Web where you can learn something.
Next, I made an effort to categorize things in a relatively logical way below and even to start a key of sorts:
I clearly have no future as a librarian, however, as I finally felt like I had to give up on pursuing this and go back to earning a living, spending time with my family, etc. Perhaps I will manage to fill it over time. (Or kind readers can share their knowledge of these sites in the comments.)
The list follows. Please let me know any major gaps you see – I plan to keep adding new sites over time. So, let me know any sites you think need to be listed here.
Mission to Learn
There are starting to be quite a lot of these sites and you have to wonder just how many can manage to stay in business. Still, I think a probable upside of all the competition will be an increase in expectations and the resulting quality of the offerings.
Big Think is the newest entrant here. I am sure there are other sites like this that I don’t yet know about. These are places where you can see some of your favorite gurus being gurus and add your two cents.
This list won’t come close to doing justice to what is going on out there in the world of open education, but suffice to say that between universities, NGOs, and foundation funded projects, there is practically nothing that you can’t learn online, and in many cases, take the underlying intellectual property and re-configure it to your own needs under an Creative Commons or other “copyleft” license.
I could post another 100 links just in this area alone. It is tricky terrain though. You have to pay attention to the fine print that tells you things like when the availability of credit expires or whether just the course/article content and not the credit (or vice-versa) is free. Particularly in the health arena, most of the “free” CE tends to be sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and medical supply manufacturers–not necessarily a bad thing, but something to keep in mind. Health-related CE also tends to be some of the less-inspired learning out there–often, for instance, credit is attached to nothing more than a journal article.
All of the above links are for destinations where a wide variety of topics are covered, but there are also any number of Web sites or YouTube videos covering a single topic or a handful of related topics. The list below is admittedly a fairly eclectic collection of examples.
Please be sure to comment and share your favorite sources for free learning.
I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.