En español | Stan Peirce had been looking for new pursuits after a long career as an electrical engineer with Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn. Then, last year, while searching the Internet, he stumbled on nearly 2,000 academic courses that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had put online. Peirce saw MIT's offerings — its OpenCourseWare project complete with syllabuses, assignments, exams and, in many cases, audio or video lectures — as nothing short of an educational gold mine.
"I couldn't believe all of this was available — for free," he says.
Welcome to "e-learning." Curious about world history or quantum physics? Want to stretch your mind by learning to speak a new language or to play the accordion? Need to fix a leaky faucet or teach your dog to behave? Now you can learn just about anything you want to learn without setting foot in a classroom.
Wave of the Future
Years ago the Internet paved the way for learning online from schools that charged tuition for their courses. And they still do, for academic credit. But e-learning is different. Though it doesn't earn you credits, it does allow you to learn pretty much on your own schedule, without spending a nickel on class fees.
Dan Colman directs Stanford University's continuing studies program and sees no end to the growth of e-learning opportunities. Colman, who founded and edits Open Culture, a website that tracks free educational and cultural media on the Web, considers these materials to be an important resource for personal enrichment, not a replacement for a college education. "I think we're entering an era where lifelong learners will have access to limitless amounts of free, noncommercial educational opportunities. Arguably, we're already there."