Sources for Courses

03/29/2013 02:33 pm ET | Updated May 29, 2013

This week on the Degree of Freedom blog, I provided descriptions of the major MOOC providers, as well as listing additional sources for free college-level classes.

Summarizing those findings:

Coursera -- This company emerged out of the Stanford experiment in online learning that created such media buzz at the end of 2011. The company provides instructors and institutions access to an array of powerful tools (including a platform for delivering lectures, homework and testing, online discussion forums and even a system for managing peer-grading of essays) which teachers can use to "do their thing" based on their own lecture style and teaching philosophy. This "Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom" philosophy has allowed Coursera to scale rapidly, even if it does mean courses can vary considerably with regard to length, requirements and production values.

edX -- This non-profit was founded by Harvard and MIT who each invested $30 million in an organization they hoped would be a trailblazer for free online learning. And while their 2-3 dozen course offerings are smaller than Coursera's hundreds, edX has been doing some interesting work in trying to craft individual courses that take advantage of both technology and the massive scale associated with student enrollments in most MOOC classes.

Udacity -- Like Coursera, Udacity spun off from the original Stanford project. And while they have been slower to release new courses than their major competitors (and still focus primarily on technical subjects), their courses have gone the furthest in replacing the traditional "sage-on-stage" lecture + other stuff (reading, homework, assessments) model with formats that take advantage of the latest thinking in technology-driven learning (notably very short -- 1-2 minute -- videos, most of which end with an assessment question that must be answered before class continues).

iTunes U -- Often overlooked in discussions of "Who is a MOOC?," Apple's iTunes U service offers access to not hundreds but thousands of courses, most of which include audio and/or video recordings of actual college classes. Because of this, they include 100 percent of what you would get in an actual class taught at Yale, Berkeley or any of the other contributors to the iTunes library. And while most of these classes do not yet offer access to components such as homework and tests, a new iTunes App provides professors the ability to include such material in their course "packages." So stay tuned to how this player continues to evolve.

Canvas -- While I've not taken a course from this organization yet, Canvas seems to provide similar resources as do the other MOOC vendors. Their classes skew towards academic subjects and I should have more to say about them once I finish my first Canvas class this Spring.

Udemy -- Udemy's system is completely open, allowing anyone to publish their own courses and either charge for them or give them away for free. While a bulk of their classes would probably be considered technical training or self-help in nature, they do include some interesting humanities and social sciences items in their library. And, again, I'll have more to say about them in the coming months when I finish my first Udemy class as part of the Degree of Freedom Project.

Great Courses and Modern Scholar -- These age-old providers of audio and video lectures (who originally offered their content on cassette tape and VHS) now sell their materials on CD, DVD and Internet download formats. And unlike virtually every other provider of college-level content, Great Courses and Modern Scholar are not works in progress but rather provide courses in standardized formats with high production values. And since their material is available for free in many public libraries, I'm happy to include them in the mix of learning sources I'll be using to earn my One Year BA.