One of the best and worst examples for online learning has to do with learning a foreign language.
It’s one of the best examples because the utility is clear: learn a language and you can talk to the cabbie while on vacation in Bangladesh, or read the local newspaper to see why people are protesting in Peru. No degree or fancy college courses necessary.
It’s one of the worst examples, though, because so much about learning a language has to do with pronunciation and live conversation. Sure, Rosetta Stone software put top-notch language learning at anyone’s fingertips, but Rosetta Stone software can cost hundreds of dollars a lesson.
That being said, an online course is certainly more beneficial than a phrasebook in your pocket, and some institutions have embraced that fact with online language classes of their own. The options are still limited, but they are a good place to start if you don’t have the cash on hand to benefit from the Rosetta Stone model.
MIT’s OpenCourseWare offers language classes online for Chinese, French, German, Japanese and Spanish, but they are relatively light on multimedia content, so pronunciation lessons may be more difficult to learn there. The other sites like Yale’s Open Courses and the Khan Academy stay away from language classes entirely, but iTunes U has plenty of language-learning content that will at least provide some audio to aid pronunciation, in podcast format.