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How To Learn About Anything You Want, For Free

mit open coursewareI enjoyed college, but don’t feel like it gave me much besides a couple of very expensive membership cards. For my English degree I gained entrance to the group of people who have actually read all 846 pages of Louis Zukofsky’s poem “A.” For my Master’s degree in Library Science–it’s essentially a made-up degree unless you go into Medical or Law Librarianship or another specialty–I gained entrance to the small group of people who could apply for library management jobs.

Now, occasionally, usually when the leaves start changing color and the college students start to fill the library, I think “I wonder if I should go back to school?” This feeling is flung down and danced upon as soon as I remember my schedule, how expensive school is, and how much of school I didn’t actually like. But I’m still curious and the fact remains that I have rarely felt as creative or inquisitive as when I have been enrolled in college classes.

Acquiring a body of knowledge

I would like to think that anyone who has completed a degree has obtained a body of knowledge that the laymen does not possess. I’m usually able to hold onto this illusion as long I don’t think about some of the “work” I did in Library School.

For the most part, the curriculum in my English program was well thought out and I was able to take the right steps in the right order and gain a body of knowledge that most non-English majors don’t have. Not saying it’s important, only that I have it. I’ve studied literary theory, I’ve studied The Romantics, and…I’m boring myself.

My point was that the structure of the classes was beneficial to me. Often, when I have decided I want to learn about a subject, I’ve had a hard time figuring out where to jump in. I either choose a book that assumes way more knowledge than I have, or there’s just nothing available that is at my level. This is discouraging and sometimes I’ve let it stifle my curiosity.

If only there was a way to know exactly how a college like MIT would teach me a certain subject…

MIT Open Courseware

Essentially, you can look at MIT’s curriculum for any program. You can see the syllabus, get the reading lists, and in many instances, get the lecture notes. You can get just about everything but the degree.

For someone like me who doesn’t always know where to jump in, this has been a thrilling discovery. Want to know where to get started with Middle Eastern History? Here is the process you would go through at MIT to get a Middle Eastern History degree. Same with Anthropology, Economics, Math, Philosophy, and many, many more.

You don’t get the degree but you don’t have to do the assignments. You don’t have to pay to study but you don’t gain entrance to the middle-management club of the college-degreed.

It is one of the most exciting things I have found in the last year and it is hands down my favorite place on the Internet.


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  • Todd Malone January 19, 2011, 3:14 pm

    MIT Open Courseware is great. I used it in conjunction with some of my college classes. It sometimes helps to hear a lecture by someone else.

    Another great site is Khan Academy — http://www.khanacademy.org/ It’s not as polished or formal as MIT’s but it’s pretty darn good for just one man and his computer.

  • Rachel January 19, 2011, 7:30 pm

    Ah, Todd beat me to it. 🙂

  • Kris Wragg January 20, 2011, 5:40 am

    I have been debating lately to get back into doing some more learning, that is a great resource!

    Generally I just buy books on topics I want to learn about, but at the moment I am interested in learning more maths and physics and finding good books seems hopeless, either too simple or too complex. So hopefully that MIT opencourse will prove very useful!

    Thanks Josh!

  • Jonas January 20, 2011, 6:10 am

    This is great, thanks for telling about it!!

    As I know you like reading I have a book recommendation – The Lance Mackey story

    Check it out if you haven’t 🙂

  • Heather January 20, 2011, 7:01 am

    DUDE! I bow down to your superior geekosity! I was just looking into some stuff the AASL has to offer, as well as some stuff that the International Webmasters’ Guild has on offer for HTML and Java-flavored stuff, but this looks WAY more interesting! Thanks! 🙂

  • Jeanette Swalberg January 20, 2011, 1:41 pm

    Thanks for the tip, Josh! This answers a HUGE “How am I going to do this?” for some personal goals I have been working on. Readers, thanks for the other links, as well!

  • cinderkeys January 20, 2011, 11:34 pm

    Some universities also podcast their lectures. Just skip the part where the professor tells you what you have to do to get good grades, and you’re cooking.

  • Rachel January 21, 2011, 11:06 am

    Also, MIT is not the only university making courseware available – check out the open courseware finder:

  • Mitchell January 22, 2011, 1:44 am

    Thanks for the tip on this website, Josh. Just want to add that I enjoy your postings, so, what I’m saying is keep up the good work.
    Also, check out this amazing website recently discovered: http://www.openculture.com