Making the Most of Open Courseware

Online education has taken off within the past decade, both in advancements and in enrollment. The number of students signed on to take at least one course online jumped up by more than 12 percent from the previous year in 2008, the Sloan Survey of Online Learning found. Yet, there is another kind of online education sweeping the country, and this kind of online learning is not only of the highest quality, fresh from some of the most lauded schools in the nation, and intellectually stimulating, but it is also completely free.

OpenCourseWare, or OCW, is a “free and open digital publication of high quality educational materials, organized as courses,” according to the OpenCourseWare Consortium. Schools such as MIT, Berkeley, Notre Dame, and Yale offer open courses for interested learners. Unlike in an official online college course, students of open courses do not have to enroll with the school offering the course or pay anything to access the materials. Any learner with access to the Internet can “participate” in a class by looking over lecture materials, readings, problem sets, and homework assignments.

Open courses can help those looking to further their education about a number of topics, ranging from biology to history. Those who are already working professionally can even use the resources provided by open courses to learn more about particular aspects of their fields so that they may gain a deeper understanding of their profession. For example, nurses can participate in open courses like anatomy and biology to further their understanding of human health and physiology. What learners get out of the open courses can even help their educational careers. Students who know that they must someday take a course similar to one available as an open course may benefit from working with the open course before actually enrolling in the class. This will help students to become more familiar with the subject and increase their level of understanding in the class. Some students may even look over the open courses for the classes they are currently taking in college to gain a firmer understanding of the class materials. Whether you are looking to learn more about your field, prepare yourself for your future classes, help you better grasp your current ones, or just want to learn for the fun of it, open courses can be valuable resources.

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