Online Sources for Self-Learners
MIT and Google Lead the Revolution
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine there being a population of consumers motivated enough to crave academic materials online; just to learn on their own. News of professionals at all levels of business that sport low-quality degrees from alleged diploma mills certainly does nothing to instill confidence in self-learning. But it was the overwhelming tide of consumer interest in free and accessible university curricula that instigated the Open Courseware Consortium in the first place. OCW is a growing crowd of colleges and universities that are committed to making their academic materials available online to whomever is interested.
Who Cares About Online Educational Sources?
MIT’s site survey shows that “about 52 percent of visitors identify themselves as self-learners, 31 percent as students enrolled in a formal course of study elsewhere, and 13 percent as educators.” No, an individual that self-studies an MIT course in Cognitive Neuroscience will not be conferred a degree from MIT, even if he or she engages in every course in the Psychology major. However, it is certain from a quick perusal of the department’s courses, both undergraduate and graduate, that in the end this individual would have consumed some of the nation’s most advanced curriculum in the field. If you care about knowledge, then the paper document may only be an incidental. Knowledge, after all, only has power when it’s exercised. A degree hardly means empowerment.
Where to Find the Best Free or Cheap Online Know-How
Online databases of books, periodicals, news articles, even dissertations and white papers, are available by the hundreds. Many remain obscure and lacking in user accessibility. Some of the larger, scholarly databases such as Science Direct and CiteSeer, clearly provide huge vaults of scientific and technical know-how and cutting-edge theory, but there’s a definite learning curve when acquainting yourself with the data. Here instead are the easiest to use of the online academic resources:
- MIT Open Courseware is perhaps OCW’s opening act. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, simply known as MIT, is one of the world’s most respected technical universities. For the last half dozen years MIT and OCW have slowly but surely developed one of the most cutting edge online resources where anyone in the world may come to self-study, gather ideas for their own curriculums, or augment the college education on which they are already at work. In 2000, MIT put 32 of its courses online and has since watched it grow into a virtual kingdom of nearly 2,000 courses. MIT Open Courseware is a virtual catalog of THE most compelling educational material on the planet. Download whole courses—including syllabi, lecture notes, and textbook bibliographies—in subjects from Aeronautics and Astronautics to Writing and Humanistic Studies.
- Google Scholar is just one of dozens of Google beta tools. “Beta” means it’s still in the development stages and should you have feedback, the folks at Google are interested. However, the resource is signature Google—scour the Internet for “peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts, and other scholarly literature from all broad areas of research. ” Bibliographic information and library locations make it easier to discover exactly where you may access the text: borrow works, buy articles and papers from BL Direct, or even read text online if available.
- When you need instant and collated information on a book, use Google Book Search to find the source. Search results return bibliographic information, excerpts, and possibly whole texts. Books that are out of copyright may be available as scanned documents that you can download and read for free.
- FreeFullText.com exclusively provides free periodicals you can access with alphabetical links to source titles. Some publications only allow free access to an older issue, but there is an A-Z storehouse of granular academic journals.
- HighWire Press, Stanford University, is similar to FreeFullText, but is more visually interesting. Link directly to scientific periodical sites where you may access free articles and content. There are more free and current issues here than FFT.
- The Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) database is a government sponsored online index of education related scholarship. Users include educators, researchers, and politicians. Accessible sources include “journals, books, conference papers, technical reports, and policy papers.” ERIC is user-friendly and delivers straightforward results.
- The Open Courseware Consortium website serves as the jumping off point for access to various courses and curricula from a half-dozen leading U.S. universities. Notre Dame, Tufts, and Johns Hopkins are among them. Dozens of international universities also share their curriculum, many translated for English audiences.
- Foreign language classes are now widely distributed via podcast. A podcast is a hybridized combination of downloadable audio feeds (“playable on demand,” P.O.D.) and broadcast. Podcasts seem like a recorded radio show. They may be downloaded to digital music players or accessed directly at the user’s convenience. Apple’s iTunes audio player devotes a whole section of its format to current and popular podcasts, including foreign language instruction. Download the free version of iTunes to either your PC or Mac, open up the iTunes store, select Podcasts, then select Education, and choose your language. Popular shows include “Coffee Break Spanish,” “German Word Daily,” and “My Daily Word Italian.”
This type of knowledge is exactly the kind of “life experience” that a diploma mill would attempt to equate with real college credit. Do not confuse open source university courses with earning a degree. Avoid the sales pitch for life experience at all costs.
The sources above offer an educational alternative to diploma mills and real college programs. But only in the hands of the right individuals do any of these top-notch resources have any meaning. You must be motivated and self-determined. There are free syllabi, textbook bibliographies, and online lessons and lectures. Get some free, high-quality book learning on the side.