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Take Any College Class for Free: 235 Open Courseware Collections, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels

If you’re interested in specific open courses, you can find a variety of courses, in fields from social work to dressmaking, on the Web (or through our resource of full courses). Usually, those single courses will contain all the materials you need to learn one subject for free. But, if you’re after more than a single focus or if you need a deeper perspective on a subject, this list of open courseware collections may be just what you need. Each resource listed below contains a collection or collections of educational materials. You’ll find digital archives, a variety of courses, Podcasts, videos, and sometimes a mix of everything you can imagine so you can learn any given subject (interior design, perhaps, or maybe alternative medicine) in depth.

While the courses, videos, and audio files below won’t help you achieve a degree because they’re not credited, you can still practice strategies for successful online learning, which may help prepare you for studying at one of the best online colleges. Once you gain significant skills in any given subject, you might be able to translate those skills into credits for an undergraduate degree at accredited online schools.


Archival materials are easier than ever to access now that most institutions have begun to digitize their materials. The University of Virginia Library, for example, has compiled the Jefferson Digital Archive based upon their internal collections and other resources. The following is a “short list” of archival materials, but you can find several search engines and directories that will lead you to hundreds of regional and international archives and their online materials.

  1. American Memory — The Library of Congress provides extensive multimedia offerings on various topics through their American Memory Collection, including their outstanding Historic American Buildings Survey that showcases historical buildings through photographs.
  2. Google Art Project — Google has teamed up with 151 art museums and partners around the globe to bring more than 30,000 works of art to Internet users, regardless of where they are. If you can’t visit the museum in person, Google Art Project is the next best thing.
  3. Paleo- Future — This Smithsonian Magazine site archives visions of the future as described in the past. Look back at a future that never became a reality.
  4. Digital Scriptorium — For images of medieval and Renaissance texts, search through the growing Digital Scriptorium database.
  5. IMLS Digital Collections and Content — Access content from cultural heritage collections, exhibits from libraries and museums, and content from other archives. More than a million items are available for users to view.
  6. Center for the History of Family Medicine — Content from all kinds of Family Medicine organizations is compiled and archived here, including classics, common topics, links, and more.
  7. Illinois Historical Digitization Projects — This site is best for information on Illinois history, as well as that of Abraham Lincoln, but provides links to other projects involving history and important figures.
  8. Darwin Correspondence Project — Read the full texts of letters by or to Charles Darwin himself. More than 7,000 full letters are available, as well as information on 8,000 more.
  9. Digital Collections at The Center for Research Libraries — Taking resources from around the world, CRL preserves and archives newspapers, documents, and more for research purposes.
  10. Internet Archive — A digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form.
  11. National Archives — Provides primary source materials from NARA along with lesson plans for teaching with those sources.
  12. National Climatic Data Center — The NCDC, a division of NOAA, maintains climatic archives, including lists of storms in given counties, and records about global extremes, etc.
  13. The Rosetta Project — A global collaboration of language specialists and native speakers building a publicly accessible online archive of all documented human languages.
  14. September 11 Digital Archive —This site uses electronic media to collect, preserve, and present the history of the 9/11 attacks.
  15. U.S. Census Bureau — If you think the Census Bureau is all about numbers, you might be surprised to learn about their archived photographs, interactive map, and more available through their Newsroom.

Broadcast Learning

Turning off the television has become a mantra. When it comes to educational TV, maybe too much isn’t enough. The following broadcasting companies maintain Web sites that carry Podcasts, videos, and articles. Some sites maintain special sections expressly for students and teachers.

  1. ABC Australia — This site offers various educational categories, including archives and the Big Ideas Wisdom Interview Podcasts.
  2. BBC Learning — Online learning, support, and advice. This site offers internal and offsite links to a vast amount of materials.
  3. Biography — The site holds videos to past interviews and biographies on people in topics that range from black history to women’s history.
  4. Book TV — This is the companion site to Book TV on C-Span2. The site holds some current interviews with authors, many past interviews, opinions, reviews, and featured programs through video.
  5. CBC Digital Archives — Relive Canadian history through thousands of available radio and television clips.
  6. Discovery — The Discovery site features videos and has an education section where teachers can accumulate materials for K-12 teaching. It’s impossible to list all their offerings here, so go discover!
  7. History Channel — Visit the Video Gallery for a selection on historical topics. Like the Discovery Channel, this network provides many opportunities for you to gain access to information and reference materials.
  8. NOVA — Watch current science shows or browse by category. PBS sponsors this channel.
  9. PBS — The Public Broadcasting Service brings great shows to television (other than Nova, listed above), and they also offer research capabilities, information, and podcasts to their viewers online.
  10. TVO — Canada’s largest educational broadcaster brings podcasts, video, educational television, and a special program entitled, Learn with TVO for parents and teachers of K-12 students.
  11. Weather Channel — You can learn about weather all over the world, but the Weather Channel also offers dynamic content based upon seasons and special conditions and a section just for kids and their teachers.
  12. The Science Channel — One of the Discovery Channel’s many subject-specific channels, the Science Channel covers, well, science. Find quizzes, games, photos, and videos about science’s mysteries and most fascinating elements.
  13. Discovery Health — Another child of parent company, the Discovery Channel, Discovery Health provides information on medicine, biology, mental health, and beyond.

YouTube Channels

If you’re trying to pick up a new skill or just gain some interesting knowledge, YouTube is a treasure trove. If you want to learn it, someone out there has probably made a video about it. With so many options on the site, start with these educational channels.

  1. eHow — How-to videos on everything you could possibly want to know. Choose from home, pets, food, style, fitness, family, and tech.
  2. Associated Press — The reputable news service provides news and features from around the world on this channel to help you keep up with current events.
  3. National Geographic Channel — Just one of many National Geographic tools for you to learn from, this YouTube channel lets you watch educational shows even if you don’t have the NatGeo TV channel.
  4. The RSA — The RSA, or Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, searches for innovative solutions to the challenges of today. Through their YouTube channel, check out the work they’re doing or exploring in arts and humanities, economics and business, education, and beyond.
  5. This Week in Tech Youtube Channel — Find out what’s going on in the tech world (and how to use all of your devices) from TWiT’s channel.
  6. SparkNotes — Free online study guides.
  7. U.S. Government Manual — The official handbook of the Federal Government.

Videos – University

The list of video collections below are either hosted or generated by a school of higher learning. Some resources also include podcasts or other educational materials, so look around when you head to a specific site.

  1. Case School of Law — Lecture series dating from 2001 to current year.
  2. Duke University Multimedia — Classroom video archives produced in the Duke University Mathematics Department Multimedia Classroom.
  3. Georgetown University Webcasts — Current critical intellectual and social issues debated and discussed.
  4. Harvard@Home — The mission of Harvard@Home is to provide the Harvard community and the broader public with opportunities for rich in-depth exploration of a wealth of topics through Web-based video programs of the highest caliber.
  5. Harvard Law School — Events and lectures online.
  6. Landon Lecture Series — Gain live access on day of lecture or view archived lectures on public issues, thanks to Kansas State University.
  7. Mathematical Sciences Research Institute — MSRI streaming video lectures.
  8. MIT Video — Look through the 12,000+ videos and 100 channels offered by MIT.
  9. Oxford Internet University Webcasts — Live and on-demand Webcasts of prominent speakers from events and conferences organized or recorded by the Oxford Internet Institute.
  10. Princeton University WebMedia — Includes events, lectures and a small selection of Podcasts.
  11. Rice University Webcasts — Live and archived events, speakers, and lectures at Rice.
  12. University of California TV Video on Demand — Lectures, seminars, and talks on a variety of topics.

Video – Other

The following list contains collections that are not maintained by a school of higher learning. But any of these resources offer great opportunities to learn through videos that range from short-shorts to entire movies.

  1. 2007 Exploring Space Lectures — Brought to you via Smithsonian Institute.
  2. Center for Economic Studies (CES) — Highlights and lectures from conferences and events on economics.
  3. Cern Webcast Service — CERN lectures and seminars to universities, schools and to the general public.
  4. Free Documentaries — Mostly political films.
  5. Free Movies and Documentaries — Videos embedded from other sites, but worth a look for various categories under documentaries, news items, etc.
  6. Howard Hughes Medical Center Lectures — Gain access to information on everything from evolution to RNA.
  7. Indymedia — The San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center is a non-commercial, democratic collective of Bay Area independent media makers and media outlets. This site also serves as the local hub for the global Indymedia network and offers archival materials as well.
  8. Link TV — Current perspectives on international news, current events, and diverse cultures, presenting issues not often covered in the U.S. media.
  9. Moving Image Archive — Internet Archive’s collection of classic full-length movies, daily alternative news broadcasts, and user-uploaded videos of every genre.
  10. National Archives — You can view and download 101 historical videos that have been digitized by the National Archives and Google.
  11. Nobel Prize Lectures — Provide a wealth of background to every Nobel Prize since 1901. You can find biographies, interviews, photos, articles, video clips, press releases, educational games and a great deal more information about the Nobel Laureates and their work.
  12. The Royal Society — Video lectures on topics from biology and climate science to physics.
  13. Vega Science Trust — The Vega Science Trust aims to create a broadcast platform for the science, engineering and technology (SET) communities. Learn from seminars, lectures, and more (they have four priceless archival recordings delivered by Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman at the University of Auckland, New Zealand).
  14. Webcasts — From the Library of Congress.
  15. WGBH Forum Network — The WGBH Forum Network is an audio and video streaming Website dedicated to curating and serving live and on-demand lectures given by some of the world’s foremost scholars, authors, artists, scientists, policy makers and community leaders.

Remember, the resources above cannot be applied toward credit at any university, even when a school of higher learning offers the materials. But, you can train yourself to learn faster, deeper, and better when you spend time with these resources on a regular basis. Keep your brain cells active and you’ll have a better brain!