Online universities are typically considered to be the bottom-level form of education by backers of traditional universities across the country; it is therefore ironic that many traditional prestigious universities have begun to offer free online classes for any person to stumble across. MIT especially spearheaded this transition to free online classes as it began to make material available to the public on their website several years ago.
Currently, there are nearly 2000 free online classes offered via the MIT website, known as OpenCourseWare. These classes offer videotaped lectures from older classes, including lecture notes, quizzes, and answers to help students work through the problems. While free online classes do not lead to degrees, nor do they further the route to a degree, they do provide many students with a free supplemental learning environment. As the cost of education has only skyrocketed in recent years, this type of free online classes allows people to gain valuable information regarding the most minute of subjects without buying hundreds of dollars of books and spending thousands on a three hour class.
The fact that schools like MIT and Stanford offer their valuable classes for nothing says a lot in itself. While these classes typically appeal to students who already have degrees and simply want a refresher, they also offer potential students an insight into what some of the most prestigious ivy league classes are teaching. Compared to for-profit online institutions, the free online classes at MIT do not seem all that different and offer students the chance to view before-hand what they intend to major in.
The most popular free online classes at MIT are mostly introductory courses, ranging from Physics 1 to Introduction to Algorithms, but they also include Multivariable Calculus and Electricity and Magnetism. Video lectures and transcripts are helpful to any person in this field and help serve as either refresher courses or a peek into the course material. Because MIT began this type of free online class program, other schools have jumped on board and see this as a great opportunity to attract students to their programs by introducing the layout of their classes. Even for current students, this is a valuable supplemental resource as it teaches the subject from a different angle.
Even though free online classes do not result in a degree, they offer increased knowledge in highly specialized subjects. Schools all around the country are now offering similar programs in an effort to compete with the highly reputable free online classes of MIT and Stanford. While online education will never truly be free, at least there is an outlet for people who want to expand their knowledge of nearly any subject.