If I were to tell you that you could attend a class directly out of a top university online? Sure, online learning is nothing new, but what if that class were available to you for free regardless of your location in the world?

The first example of this that comes to mind would be iTunes U, a collection of lectures and lessons made freely available to the public by way of Apple’s iTunes. This is great, and arguably one of the best single examples of educational resources being made freely available to the public, but I believe there is a better solution.

The one thing recorded lectures don’t give you is an interactive learning environment you might find in a classroom. Tests, questions during lectures, and other methods of grabbing, maintaining, and proving comprehension are lost to recorded video. This is where Coursera comes in.

How to Attend Free Courses from Top UniversitiesCoursera is a for-profit company which has partnered with a number of top universities in order to open classes originally restricted to 10-200 students to 100,000 or more. Courses take as many weeks as a standard university class, and you (as a student) are regularly tested to make sure you understand the information presented in the class.

Your efforts made on Coursera result in more than receiving some education without a huge investment on your part. These efforts on your part can translate directly to actual college credit or employment due to verified certificates given at the end of the course. You will have actually taken Calculus, and you can feel free to boast having completed the course.

What would you give to attend Cryptography with Dan Boneh of Stanford University or Computer Vision with Jitendra Malik from the University of California, Berkeley? These are some of the courses you can find on Coursera and the class can be attended for free.

What’s the Catch?

Coursera is a for-profit company. It received a large amount of venture capital early on but at the end of the day a profit has to be made. It’s understood that premium services such as being able to attend all of the courses available, receive physical certificates and identity verification, or put your name in a database a perspective employer could double check your completion through are some of the potential fee-based services being offered down the line.

Classes last a set period of time, and deadlines are part of your course work. Just like being physically in attendance at a university, you’ll be expected to meet those deadlines in order to pass the class. It’s not something you would drop and pick up whenever you feel like it, but more like an actual online university such as University of Phoenix. Classes don’t require you to be in attendance at a specific time of day, so your free time is still yours to schedule.

Just because you are learning some of the lessons available at top higher learning institutions doesn’t mean you’ll receive a degree. This is course-by-course learning and though each class in itself can count towards your total educational background, it isn’t a complete replacement for it. Jobs that require degrees will continue to value those degrees over single class certificates.

Would You Consider Attending?

I’ve written recently about my why I wish I had gone to college. I may never be able to experience what it’s like to spend four years concentrating exclusively on my education and earning that degree which would help me land the perfect job down the line, but that doesn’t mean I have to shut my doors to higher education, either. These courses are a perfect fit for me, and I’m strongly considering signing up for a few.

What about you? Would you consider attending an online course?

Photo: James Sarmiento