You don’t need to go to Harvard, or Stanford, to learn from the world’s best universities. Thanks to the internet, you can do exactly that in the comfort of your own home.
Around 2007, prestigious universities like Stanford, Yale, Harvard, MIT and Princeton started to make video recordings of a few complete series of lectures of quite a number of courses, and make them available online, together with the course notes as well as the lectures’ slides. At that time, however, all these online lecture and course materials are scattered over a number of different websites, which makes them less accessible and less exposed to the world at large. Not many people knows about the existence of these extremely valuable yet freely available warehouse of knowledge. There was no website that brings all these online courses and lecture materials together under one roof. Until early this year.
Academic Earth, a website created by former student at Yale University, Richard Ludlow, does exactly that. It aggregates all these scattered lecture videos and notes and other contents like problem sheets and quizzes and put them under one easily accessible website. What’s more, the website arranges the lecture materials according to Subjects and Universities. So fancy yourself being a Princeton student? Now you can actually be one. Academic Earth even allows you to create your own playlist of lectures that you want to watch. I say that’s very handy.
Of course, learning through videos still is not and probably will never be nearly the same with actually, physically being there in the lecture theatre at these universities. Nevertheless, this is one big step forward towards making knowledge easily and freely accessible to a much wider audience. Having tried a few of those lecture videos and notes myself, I say they are pretty adequate for the purpose of imparting knowledge and skills. Sure, it will be nice (very nice indeed) and gratifying to actually be a student in one of these universities, but as far as knowledge is concerned, being there is no longer a necessity.
For so long people back in my country used to be saying that education is not all about the exam results, but the process and the knowledge itself is more important. Well, this is one actual opportunity for those who honestly believes in that view to prove themselves. These online courses will not get you a degree or a certification from these universities. You will not be able to officially say you are educated at Harvard, there will be no documents to prove it. Certifications aside, you will however obtain the valuable knowledge and skills and expand your own capabilities. This is knowledge and education in their naked form, stripped of all papers and certifications and grades and other false pretenses of its true objectives. In these online courses, you don’t learn the stuffs they teach you because you want to get good grades, get a scholarship, avoid being scolded by your mother, or simply to show off. You learn through these online courses because you want the knowledge and the skills, and that’s it, pure and simple.
So no, I can’t officially say I’m taking the Computer Science 50 (CS50) course in Harvard, there won’t be any official document to prove and certify that. But I’m learning whatever they’re teaching those people who are actually there in Harvard, I do the same exercises and the same projects and quizzes that they’re doing, and I’m developing the same skills set they’re developing, so by the end of the course, I can be as good as they are. If knowledge is really what you’re after, those official documents really do not matter. Official or not, the skills and knowledge can be yours. Provided you want them, of course.
And if you’re like me, you’ll be interested.