Check Out Open CourseWare, Because Using Your Brain is Fun

Rachel’s Team Pick:

Not all of us get a fancy Ivy League education, with professors who are interviewed on NPR every other day and thesis advisors who have formerly served on Presidential cabinets. In fact, many of us don’t get a college education at all; it’s beyond what we can afford, and as much as we may enjoy learning, we need to work, or care for families, or both. A lot of the time, learning for learning’s sake seems like a luxury that only a select few can afford.

A lot of the time, that might be true. But if college coursework is something you’re interested in, or you’re already in higher education but want to get a little extra without extra tuition payments, you may want to make yourself aware of the many open courseware options available to you. Open courseware is what happens when established colleges, universities or other education institutions choose to make the materials and coursework for an online course publicly accessible, so anyone with an interest can take classes ranging from “Freshman Organic Chemistry” to “African American Studies: Intro to African American Political Thought.” Courses can include anything from videos of lectures to PDFs of readings. These are some pretty formidable educational bigwigs, too — Yale already offers 42 free online classes and just added six more, and MIT’s Open Courseware is a really rich and well-curated set of resources for self-directed learning. And just because it’s an “institute of technology,” don’t think it has nothing for you — the Women’s and Gender Studies department at MIT offers classes like “Special Topics in Women & Gender Studies Seminar: Latina Women’s Voices” as well as “Sexual and Gender Identities.” Yeah, I know, that’s your jam.

For a general overview of the resources available to you as a citizen of the Internet, the blog Open Culture has an index of 450 free courses available all over the internet from different universities. The Open Courseware Consortium also offers a way to browse through all the free educational opportunities from universities all over the world. Whether you’re trying to learn a new language, think it might be fun to look into that Faulkner guy, or are some sort of crazed educational masochist who’s just finishing out their semester but doesn’t think they can go a whole summer without taking notes on something, it’s worth checking out open courseware. Because while college is an experience that only a few can access, learning about the world around us should be for everyone.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Thanks for writing on this, Rachel! Open courseware is so wonderful but really under-utilized in my opinion. I took a computer programming course via MIT’s OCW a few years ago and found it completely manageable and great. The courses are ideal for people looking to improve their skill set (esp. for those unemployed or underemployed) and/or just interested in learning new things without stressing over grades. I should do a commercial for it, but it’s free so weeeee!

  2. Thank you so much Rachel! I really enjoyed my anthropology class back when I was in school and have wanted to learn more about the subject. I’m also interested in taking a gender studies class but don’t have the time to go to an actual class with assignments. I had been wishing there was a way to just acquire the information/knowledge from such a class for people who don’t have time for homework or to sit in a classroom, and the good ladies of Autostraddle have found it! Hurray!

  3. I saw a post on tumblr a while back about Harvard’s free online courses, geeked out and bookmarked it for later, then promptly forgot about it. So thanks for the reminder! I just briefly looked at Yale’s selections and most of them are available as podcasts!! This is so exciting!!!

  4. I’m in highschool and I took chem last year at school…. I got really interested in it and somehow I ended up watching/taking notes/exams for an entire Intro to Chem class from the MIT Opencourseware (needless to say I have a great social life.) Anyways, I had a blast and suggest these courses to anyone! Also, it prepared me pretty well for the SAT II! :D

  5. This is excellent thanks. I’m keen to go back to uni after dropping out for personal reasons but the cost is just getting out of hand- tuition fees recently rose in the UK. It would be nice to be using my brain again after a mind numbing shift at work.

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