NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Ask any parent what they think is most important to their children’s success in life, and chances are good that all of them will say the same thing: an education. And, most often, what they mean by “education” is “a college education.”
Thankfully, the Internet and the many minds connected to it have stepped up in some notable ways to provide alternatives to a bricks-and-mortar (and money) education. Leading universities increasingly make their courses available for free online – sometimes complete with video lectures and homework assignments – and other institutions have sprung up from scratch to give people more ways to educate themselves in digital classrooms.
That being said, this new world of education is still on its first legs. Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of online educational resources Fastweb.com and Finaid.org, has been following developments in the world of free online education for some time now.
“There’s a lot of potential here,” Kantrowitz says. “This is in its infancy and at some point people will start building things on top of it like interactive exams that test your weaknesses, but you can basically get an Ivy League education for free now.”
An important caveat though, he says, is that because such efforts don’t result in an actual diploma or another credential that certifies the knowledge you get from online outlets, the real-world benefits they provide can be limited to the cases where the knowledge is more important than the degree itself.
“The education is real, and in some cases you could potentially sit for a licensing exam after educating yourself with these free courses,” Kantrowitz says, but “what it eventually will evolve into will be multiple master teachers synthesizing their approach formally – maybe at some future date you won't need to go to college because you can do it remotely.”
That being said, only the most self-motivated of students will be able to truly get the knowledge they want out of such programs.
“If you’re the type of person who’s a self-starter and can motivate yourself to go through the lessons then it works,” Kantrowitz says. “But some people need supervision. Some people are just not good at doing independent study.”