Free online uni courses: way of the future?

Running a Mac means you get automatically subscribed to Apple news in Apple Mail. Never one to delete something potentially useful, I find that it strikes gold occasionally. Like today’s notification about full-length, free courses provided by Yale University.

I realise that I’m wandering all over the place on this blog lately – it will get back to music journalism very soon, no fear! – but moves by universities to provide solid content online for free gave me pause.

In Australia, tertiary education used to be free. For everybody. Then, with changes of federal government and changing public sentiment, it moved to a hidden fees-based system. The fees can be deferred until you earn enough to pay back your debt: but it’s still a debt. I think mine stands in excess of $17k at the moment, and I gained an Arts honours degree. Many medicine students’ debts run into the hundreds of thousands.

But I digress.

The decision by some universities around the world to jump on board the iTunes U bandwagon has been rather brilliant. Yale University in particular has provided, just recently, full-length courses in various areas: astrophysics, game theory, psychology, biomedical engineers, finance, history, english, and more. While these courses don’t count as course credit, they go a long way towards filling the gap created by a user-pays service for tertiary education.

While some might argue that this ties Yale to the iTunes platform – and to Apple products generally – they would be wrong. Yale runs an open university online, which includes all course material (meaning also audio and video) on its own website. These links also exist inside the iTunes format: but it means that those who don’t run iTunes (yes they do exist!) can still get the benefit of the university’s courses.

Do other unis do this? I’m not sure. Somehow I doubt it – few have been so gung-ho about the notion of free open learning as Yale.

I’ve always been of the persuasion that education, and information generally, should be free – as far as it is practical (i.e. subsidised if there is no other way of doing it). But the move towards free educational content – serious educational content, as opposed to random blogs or courses of which you are unsure of the pedigree – needs to happen more and more.

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