Harvard and MIT, for free
These institutes for higher learning will offer gratis instruction online. Other colleges and organizations already do.
Want to go to Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for free? They're partnering on a nonprofit called "edX," which will create online classes as early as autumn 2012.
"MIT's and Harvard's mission is to provide affordable education to anybody who wants it," Anant Agarwal, the president of edX, told the Los Angeles Times.
The classes will confer knowledge, not actual college credit. Some might result in a certificate of completion, which would require a fee.
But edX isn't the only way to get free education online.
For starters, MIT already offers OpenCourseWare -- access to more than 2,000 courses from hundreds of institutions worldwide. A surprising number are in the humanities, not the sciences.
Online or on your iPhone
Stanford University is offering 13 free classes during the 2011-12 school year, the Times reported. Most are presented through Coursera, a company that also hosts classes from five other prestigious schools.
A Stanford professor founded Udacity, which made news in 2011 when more than 58,000 virtual students signed up for a class on artificial intelligence. (Post continues below video.)
You can access more than 350,000 audio and video lectures through iTunes U. These include "everything from anthropology to zoology," according to an article on MSN Money's Smart Spending blog, and they can be played back an iPod, iPhone or iPad.
Other education portals
Peer-to-peer instruction is based on the "information should be free" mentality. Sites like W3Schools.com and Dave's Site can help even the rankest beginners learn Web design from the ground up.
A good grasp of technology will make you more employable. It may also help you keep the job you already have, whether through broadening your skill set or keeping existing knowledge sharp. (Technology morphs by the minute.)
And, of course, there's the chance to enrich your personal life, whether it's through a photography class or an online seminar about symbolism in the Harry Potter novels.
Other non-academic classes, webinars and tutorials abound online. Some of them are commercial, such as a software manufacturer offering plenty of how-to videos to help customers succeed. Take advantage: It never hurts to impress a supervisor with your mad Excel skills.
Consider the source
Or cast a wider net: Call up a search engine and type, "How do I (do whatever it is you want to learn)?"
For example, a search for "learn foreign languages" turned up a site called FSI Language Courses, a compilation of classes developed by the U.S. government's Foreign Services Institute. (Those lessons are now in the public domain.) In addition to the usual suspects like French, German and Spanish, you can learn the basics of less-commonly taught languages like Finnish, Fula, Cambodian, Amharic, Yoruba, Czech and Igbo.
Seriously, you think the boss won't notice that you're assisting the Ethiopian customers in their own language?
Note that some search results with "free" and "education" are for companies that don't provide anything of the sort. They're affiliate sites that send you to companies offering paid instruction.
Thus it's vital to consider the source when you consider a course. For example, I'd skip right past a "nutrition" seminar put together by someone selling a protein shake.
Be leery, too, of any free-education site that asks for a lot of personal information from the get-go. It might be collecting information to sell to spammers.
More from MSN Money:
I am surprised that Khan Academy is not mentioned.
khanacademy (dot) org
Has anyone heard if the clam harvest was any good? I heard it was way down cause of the oil spill in the gulf!
Anyone wanna chime in on the state of the chowda?
BTW...Yeah, I graduated from Haavaaad!
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