Free Learning

Sunday, February 17, 2008
Andrew Greene

An enthusiastic examination of education today exposes two extremes. One, higher education has become, for many, prohibitively expensive. The second is the reality that much of this costly instruction can nowadays be found online and accessed totally free of charge.

Since the middle of December I have spent much of my spare time engrossed in lectures from the University of California Berkeley and Stanford University. And though not a huge fan of reading things on a monitor, I have likewise been thrilled by the number of books freely available online. All of this complimentary schooling makes me as tail-waggingly happy as a puppy at supper time.

MIT, Yale, Berkeley, UCLA and many other universities have committed to posting their lectures online. Most, if not all, of these schools organize their courses and posted lectures in easy to browse lists sorted by course, date and topic.

Getting started is simple. First of all, you have got to make sure you have the appropriate software on your machine. Berkeley’s webcasts are in rm. format, which is not supported by Window’s Media Player so you will need to download the free program Media Player Classic in order to watch the lectures. To merely listen to the lectures, all you have got to do is save the mp3 files.

I have found that some of the webcasted lectures are missing from their mother sites. When that happens, all you have to is search for the lecture’s title on youtube and watch it there. Thus far, I have been able to find every missing lecture there.

Youtube is in fact such an instrumental player in the democratization of tertiary education that Berkeley and Pitzer College have their own dedicated youtube webpages. In addition to these two schools, the lectures of numerous other schools are stored on the site.

A second major contributor to free education is Apple. Its free iTunes program opens the window to thousands of courses and lectures. You do not need to own an ipod or a Mac to use iTunes. Once you have downloaded and installed the program from the Apple website, you need to search for “university” in the search box at the top right of the page.

The results page displays portals for artists, albums, audio books, podcasts and iTunes U. These last two options are where you want to wander. They contain the knowledge we are seeking. Clicking on the “Podcasts See All” arrow opens a series of pages listing hundreds of universities.

Well-known, if not overtly familiar, institutions like Princeton, John Hopkins and Oxford Universities reside here. As do the yet to be discovered such as Trump University and a thing called Real Estate Toolbox University.

Many of the podcasts to which I have listened do not seem to be recordings of actual classroom lectures. For those, youtube and the actual university portals have been for me the most fruitful. The university sites are also effective since their lectures are laid out in structured ways that make it easy for the learner to digest them in the order in which they would normally be in. This is not as easy to do on youtube, which has the habit of presenting lectures as a mishmashed potluck selection.

Here are three links to get you started: University of California Berkeley webcasts at, Stanford University at and the Media Player Classic download at

On Words’ next column will explore deeper these offerings along with sites from where you can find free books and scholarly articles.

Andrew Greene’s personal blog can be found at

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