This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

The Daily Need

The university of the web

Students are settling back into college campuses all over country: receiving syllabi, cracking reading lists and (hopefully) attending class. But what about the rest of us? For those inclined to feel nostalgic about this fall ritual, the Interwebs has a solution: In fact, it’s now possible to virtually audit classes all over the country at a fraction of the cost — or really, none of the cost.

The move toward putting college courses online and free for the public is part of a broader open education movement, which is flourishing across the web. The movement began in earnest over a decade ago with the introduction of MIT’s OpenCourseWare, which disseminates virtually all MIT course content on the Internet for free. OpenCourseWare now has more than 2,000 courses available on its site and has been visited more than 100 million times. Following MIT’s lead, the OpenCourseWare Consortium is a community of hundreds of universities and organizations (including MIT) committed to providing “free and open digital publication of high quality university-level education materials … accessible to anyone, anytime via the Internet.” And a great resource for finding academic content on almost any subject under the sun.

Anya Kamenetz has written extensively about the sustainability of our higher-education system and the open-education movement in her book, “DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education.” This movement toward more open access represents “the beginnings of a complete educational remix” and points toward “the expansion of education beyond classroom walls: free, open-source, networked, experiential, and self-directed learning.”

In that back-to-school spirit, here are a couple of classes worth checking out.

  • Blogosphere superstar (and UC Berkeley econ professor) has made all of his econ 1 course materials available on his blog. It includes the syllabus, reading list and webcasts of lectures.
  • Stanford professor (and Pulitzer Prize-winning author) Jack Rakove is an expert on Colonial and Revolutionary America. Complete lectures and syllabus on iTunes and here.
  • Descriptive Introduction to Physics taught by University of California Professor Richard Muller. Also known as Physics for Future Presidents, this course stresses conceptual understanding rather than math (phew!).
  • Learn Chinese as an absolute beginner with Dr. Julian K. Wheatley of MIT. An OpenCourseWare editors’ pick that includes lectures, coursework, audio samples and language study software.
  • Game Theory with Professor Ben Polak of Yale University includes video lectures and the syllabus.

This is only a small fraction of the courses available to anyone with an Internet connection. Here are some suggestions from The New York Times. DIY Scholar has another list of recommendations. Plus, you can search for almost anything at the OpenCourseWare website.

What are we missing?

  • thumb
    Explaining taxmageddon
    What is the fiscal cliff anyway? Our primer has everything you need to know — from Simpson-Bowles to the BCA.
  • thumb
    Learning to vote all over again
    After the debacle that was Primary Day, the New York Board of Election did a major outreach, teaching seniors and others to use new voting machines.
  • thumb
    Gibraltar's big feet
    It's not just the world's major emitters that will have to reduce their carbon footprints: There is plenty of room for smaller countries to reduce their per capita contributions to a problem that threatens all.


  • Anonymous

    This is way cool, as is what I found recently in CEO Space (Google Super Teaching) with MBA level continuing education courses and an 83% retention rate, even I can learn and retain.

  • Inatrillion

    FYI… you can find OCW and other free online courses easily through, which is another site mentioned by Anya Kamenetz (

  • Scott MacLeod

    See, too, World University and School – like Wikipedia with MIT OCW, Berkeley Webcast, Yale OYC, etc., and facilitating people-to-people teaching and learning: WUaS is planning to offer free degrees with matriculating some classes in 2014 for BA, Law, Medical and Ph.D. degrees, primarily by collaborating with great universities. There’s much more, as well, and much already posted. WUaS is potentially in all 3,000-8,000 languages.

    Scott MacLeod