When many people are asked about their biggest regret, not getting enough education heads the list. Often, the regret intensifies once career and family demands diminish and new-found time is available. If you are among those who wish you’d studied more, the news is good. Thanks to the Internet, you can satisfy your thirst for learning and even earn that longed-for degree. Age is not a barrier, and, in most cases, neither is your academic history. And it’s free — all you need is access to the Internet and the resolve to stick with the program you choose.
Your choices are abundant. Want to study at MIT, Stanford or Berkeley? Want to learn a new language? Now you can. Live far from a university? With online learning, you can study from anywhere. No money? No problem. A number of academic institutions in the U.S. and the U.K. offer free online courses in a variety of subjects, either for personal interest or to apply toward a degree or a professional designation. Here are some top-ranking educational institutions to consider:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University both offer courses through the Open Education Consortium, a global network of colleges and universities that provides free digital course materials. MIT offers more than 1,800 free courses in text, audio and video formats and translates them into several languages. Tufts’ courses are sorted by faculty — School of Arts and Sciences, School of Medicine, etc. — and include assignments, lecture notes and other supplementary materials. Canadian schools in the consortium include Athabasca University and Royal Roads University.
The Open University is the largest academic institution in the U.K. The school's OpenLearn website gives free access to both undergraduate- and graduate-level course materials. Courses run the gamut from arts, history, business and education to information technology, mathematics and statistics, science, health and technology.
Carnegie Mellon University offers several free online courses and materials through a program called Open Learning Initiative. These courses allow anyone to study a subject at an introductory college level independently, without formal instruction. Courses include statistics, biology, chemistry, economics, French and physics.
Stanford University has joined forces with iTunes U, Apple’s downloadable education service to provide access to Stanford courses, lectures and interviews. You can download these courses and play them on your iPod, PC or Mac, or burn them onto CDs.
University of California, Berkeley has been offering live and on-demand webcasts of certain courses since 2001. Hundreds of UC Berkeley courses, both current and archived, are now available as podcasts and webcasts. Courses include astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer programming, engineering, psychology, legal studies and philosophy.
The Khan Academy is a global, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing a world-class education to anyone, anywhere. Founded by Bengali-American educator Salman Khan, who has three degrees from MIT and a Harvard MBA, it offers 1,800 video lessons on an impressive range of courses from finance to the French Revolution. Bill Gates is a fan and the Gates Foundation helps fund the academy, as does Google. Khan believes you can study any subject – organic chemistry, calculus or history – just as easily online as in a classroom.
If you want to learn another language, check out the resources listed on Education Insider. Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative offers two introductory French courses, each running 15 weeks and including interactive videos and lessons. You can learn French and Spanish through Annenberg Learner, and 17 Indo-European languages (including Italian, German and Russian) plus Finnish, Turkish and Indonesian through IELanguages.com.
So, stop regretting and start learning. Take that calculus course or learn French or psychology on your own via the Internet. The world of high-quality, free education is just a mouse click away.