Like free online learning services, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are among the hottest new trends sweeping schools, colleges and education today. Technology tools that allow students of all ages -- even adults -- to access classes and lessons via the Internet, all are set to revolutionize learning by providing widespread access to courses from prestigious worldwide institutes.
As the following 20 ways to enjoy MOOCs and free learning options illustrate, it's now possible for nearly anyone, anywhere to enjoy courses created by top experts. Contributors include professors from prestigious universities such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Duke, Vanderbilt, Rice, Columbia, Washington University and more. Admittedly, there are still kinks to be worked out -- e.g. whether or not, and how, to allow formal educational credit for participation. But while their ability to convey degrees or compound school curriculums remains yet to be determined, it also means virtually all are currently available free of charge.
In other words, don't expect to get your MBA by watching a few videos on the Internet. But for those who enjoy a passion for learning vs. those looking to simply accumulate course credit, MOOCs provide an amazing way to learn from the country's best at zero cost. Think of the opportunity as similar to being able to audit a class in college -- only now you can do so wherever you have a laptop or tablet PC handy. Here's a look at several of the best websites, services and solutions that can help you tap into the benefits these online lectures and lessons offer.
Alison -- Alison (Advanced Learning Interactive Systems Online) touts itself as the world's leading free online resource for basic and essential workplace skills. In addition to free MOOCs, the service also offers paid courses that provide certification.
Carnegie Mellon -- Through its open learning initiative, Carnegie Mellon University currently directly offers nearly two dozen courses, ranging from lessons in elementary Spanish to classes on Anatomy & Physiology.
Canvas Network -- With an easy to understand interface including a checklist of course requirements and expectations, Canvas Network provides a beginner-friendly option for those looking to explore Internet-based learning. Canvas is built on an educational platform created by a company called Instructure that was originally used for smaller-scale, private lessons, but has since been expanded to include MOOCs.
Coursera -- Among current leaders in the field of MOOCs, Coursera features an extensive catalog of classes and lectures from top colleges around the world. It currently partners with more than 60 international universities to offer hundreds of online courses, and claims to emphasize only high-quality programming.
CourseSites -- If you're a teacher or a member of an educational institute looking to share your classes or lessons online, popular service Blackboard's CourseSites offers a place where teachers can post course materials, communicate with students, encourage collaboration, monitor pupils' performance, and manage grading.
Curricki -- Curricki is aimed at teachers, parents and kids in grades K-12, offering learning ideas and resources from around the world. The site boasts millions of users, and lists MOOCs as just one of many available options for users.
EdX -- EdX is a non-profit undertaking started by Harvard and Stanford that has since extended its reach to include courses from top Canadian universities as well as schools such as UC-Berkeley, Rice and Georgetown. Each course is designed to be an interactive online experience to help better educate and inform students.
iTunesU -- Anyone that's bought an iPhone or iPad over the past year already has access to thousands of online courses thanks to the iTunes U app. Although a primary part of the service's design helps teachers create and manage private courses with students, these classes and lesson plans can also be shared more broadly across the iTunesU network, creating what Apple calls the world's largest collection of online courses.
Open Learning -- This global platform seeks to combine the social elements of Facebook with the user-generated contributions of Wikipedia to create a unique community and gathering where online learning solutions, including MOOCs, can thrive.
Open Learn -- As one of the UK's leading resources for nearly every kind of mass learning solution available, Open University offers its Open Learn program of MOOCs and Internet-based courses to students from anywhere around the world.
Open Yale Courses -- Ever wanted to know what it was like to go to Yale? Through its dedicated site, the school offers a variety of courses which include a full set of class lectures as high-quality videos accompanied by suggested reading, exams, and problem sets. These lectures are available as downloads, with audio-only versions also provided, as are searchable transcripts of each lecture.
P2P University -- Peer to Peer University offers a chance for community members to create and collaborate on any number of different online educational undertakings on a variety of different topics.
SyMynd -- Offering numerous courses from prestigious and accredited universities around the county like Washington University in St. Louis, New York University, Stanford, McGill and more, you can register to enjoy various programs from this online learning provider.
Udacity -- Udacity was started after two professors from Stanford offered a course online and more than 150,000 enrolled, offering an extensive list of free classes that can be completed based on your individual schedule. When a course is finished, there are even final exams and testing locations available to help you receive certificate completion.
Udemy -- Udemy allows experts to create and share online courses, usually without any formal accreditation or affiliation - in other words, you don't have to be a formal teacher or instructor to create your own classes. What these MOOCs may lack in prestige, they often make up for in usefulness.
University of the People -- This online site calls itself the tuition-free online university, offering programs on a broad range of topics and interest areas, but does charge a one-time processing fee of $50 and a per-course exam fee of $100.
WikiEducator -- WikiEducator is a source for many kinds of online learning content, includes MOOCs and more.
Class Central -- Instead of visiting each of the above sites individually, an aggregator like Class Central may help you expedite learning, providing listings and links to classes available from many of the previously listed resources.
MOOC List -- Similarly, this one-stop site also collects information from various providers so that you can quickly skim offerings available from multiple services in a single spot, maximizing convenience.