Friday, January 8, 2010

Learn Anything Online ... For Free

By: Bill Hogan  Source: From the AARP Bulletin print edition  January 1, 2010

Getting Started  Here are a few tools and tips to keep you at the head of your e-learning class
What kind of Internet connection do I need?
Many courses deliver classes in large audio and video files (multimedia files) that you download. That means you’ll definitely want a high-speed Internet connection (cable, DSL, fiber-optic, etc.). Dial-up service is too slow.
How do I play audio and video files?
This is sometimes as easy as hitting an onscreen “download” or “play” button. You’ll probably save and organize these files on your computer so that you can use them whenever you want.

Do I need special software to play files? While many audio and video files can be played with a standard Web browser (like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Mozilla’s Firefox), you’ll often need software specifically for that purpose. The easiest and most popular is Apple’s iTunes. It’s free. Other choices: QuickTime, Apple’s basic playback software (for both Macs and PCs); Windows Media Player, Microsoft’s digital media player and library, which works only on PCs; and RealPlayer by RealNetworks (for both Macs and PCs). All are free, at least in their basic versions.

How can I keep track of all the files?
There are lots of ways to organize. You could simply store them on your computer in multiple folders and subfolders, much like an electronic filing cabinet. If you use iTunes, there are seven built-in “libraries” to help you categorize.

What are podcasts?
Think of them as a subscription service for video and audio files. The files you’re interested in are made available to you online for downloading via an automatic “feed.” You can then watch them or listen to them whenever you want, either on your computer or a portable media player.

You mean I can learn on the go?
If you want to take your lessons with you—to the gym, on a walk—you can transfer them to a portable media player, such as Apple’s iPod or Microsoft’s Zune HD. Increasingly, smartphones, such as Apple’s iPhone or Motorola’s Droid, are equipped to handle audio and video files. Some even double as eBook readers.

Will I need hard copies of books?
For many online university courses, you’ll need textbooks or other titles on the syllabus. Online marketplaces such as and typically sell used textbooks for as low as $1 apiece.

Guide to E-Learning Sites
This sampling of e-learning opportunities is generally limited to video-based content that’s meant to be free, without restrictions or catches. Other education and enrichment discoveries are limited only by what your search engine of choice turns up. Or stay on top of new offerings at Open Culture, which scours the Web for free cultural and educational media.

Smorgasbord sites read the detail at the link at end of this article

Standalone university sites  read the detail at the link at end of this article

How-to ...  read the detail at the link at end of this article

Deep thinkers  read the detail at the link at end of this article

Arts and sciences  read the detail at the link at end of this article

Computer programming. Maybe you’ve read about Ethan Nicholas, who earned $800,000 by writing an artillery game called “iShoot” for the iPhone. If you want to try your own hand, consider auditing Stanford’s Computer Science 193P: iPhone Application Programming. The 10-week undergraduate course attracted 150 students for only 50 spots when it was introduced on campus last fall. Online viewers see the same lectures as classroom students. 
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