Have you ever just been sitting around the house, tired of the same old shows on television and thought, "Man, I would love to take a course on Thermodynamics and Kinetics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)"? If chemistry is not your thing, then maybe a course in Atomistic Computer Modeling of Materials is more to your liking. Still no go? Then maybe a class in the Philosophy of Film, Chinese, or Introduction to Algorithms appeals to you.
In fact, if you were considering a break from the television, or if you just wanted the chance to conveniently embrace continuing education, you could select from thousands of courses: Free! Not only MIT, but several other colleges now allow you to access their classes over the Internet, without cost. The courses differ, but not only do Internet "students" get the audio/video lectures, they also get a syllabus, class transcripts, lecture notes, reading assignments, exercises and practice exams. Again, not all classes offer all of the above, but enough material is shared that one can genuinely experience the course as is it offered by the university to its students.
MIT's program is called, "OpenCourseWare," though there are many universities, such as U.C. Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, and Tufts University that are available to choose from. Although no academic credit is given for the courses, and nothing is graded, one interested in a quality education, for the sake of learning, has the opportunity that other self-taught students, like Albert Einstein and Alexander Graham Bell, could only dream of.
Surprisingly, these courses have been around for some time now; MIT's program began with 50 pilot classes in 2002 and officially launched the program in October of 2003 with 500 classes. Today, it offers about 1900 full-length courses, many with video hosted by YouTube and iTunes U. Today, MIT's OpenCourseWare gets an amazing 2 million visits per month.
I often enjoy the lectures offered by The Teaching Company, which also offers professionally-produced audio and video lectures from the countries best college professors. These lectures are expensive to purchase but are readily available in many libraries. Their promotion includes the idea that even spending an hour a day listening to their lectures would result in a course being completed in just weeks. The audio lectures are great for long car rides.
Science has long encouraged lifetime learning, and, although not conclusive, the latest research has suggested that exercising your brain might help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's. However, even without the perceived physiological benefits, it can be fun to learn new things-at your time, place and convenience.
For some, it might be difficult to consider putting in the effort and not getting the college credit for it. These courses are not really something that belongs on a résumé. Rather, these courses offer the opportunity to take classes completely out of interest, and you do not have to take each class required in pursuit of a formal degree. And while these courses, if applicable to one's profession, do not garner official recognition, it is not to say that they will not help in the performance of one's job.
It is amazing what the Internet has brought to us; this is just another of its dynamics with the potential to change the world. For me, I'll pass on the Thermodynamics and Kinetics class, but I saw several others that caught my attention. However, and perhaps more importantly, I can't wait to see what the Internet brings us next!