I heard about top universities, like Yale and Harvard, offering their courses for free online to the public to take at their leisure a few years ago.  While I thought that was a cool thing to do and a great idea, I hadn’t had the chance to research this or try out one of these courses. 

I had initial feelings that these courses would be watered down versions of the original or that the actual offerings would be too limited to be beneficial to the general public.  I turned out to be quite wrong.  Yale and Harvard, along with many other universities, are offering a wide variety of free courses for anyone to take.  Even though the learner wouldn’t be receiving college credit for their work, the knowledge obtained could help them in many valuable ways.

I liked what I saw from MIT the best from the free offerings that I found during my research.  I learned from exploring their site that MIT is part of a group (over 250 universities world-wide) called the Open Courseware Consortium that makes available some/all of their courses to the public.

I was surprised at how many courses where actually available at MIT’s website and that graduate courses were offered as well as undergraduate courses.  After reviewing their offerings, I decided to check out an undergraduate course in Accounting called Introduction to Financial and Managerial Accounting.

As an accounting teacher for the past 19 years, I am pretty ‘up’ on what should be encountered in a course like this.  This course assumes that the student has already had an introductory course in accounting to understand the fundamentals (debit, credit, financial sheets, etc.) and takes them straight into handling accounting situations faced by management.

The course was designed as I would have expected an online course to be, especially after taking all of my courses for my Master’s program at Regis online.  The webpage setup to navigate throughout the course is very easy to understand and manage.  The material for the course was attached in the various pages as a link to a website, a pdf document or a video for further explanation.  All of the notes from the video lectures, for example, where also provided as a pdf for students to be able to read over more thoroughly.  All assessments were also contained within the course page.

I really like that for each assignment to practice a particular accounting skill, a pdf link to the solution is also provided.  This makes checking your work and trying to figure out any questions much easier.  And as with most online learning courses that I’ve come into contact with, student-centered learning is the focus of this course. 

Since the course is not part of an actual registered course at the university, learners can’t take part in valuable student interactions or collaborations that could also enrich their learning experience.  Another disadvantage to this type of learning (yeah, I’m looking a gifted horse in the mouth) is that the learner doesn’t have access to an instructor/teacher to help them when they need assistance.  I’m sure that the paid version of these courses offer the student all the expected supports that don’t come in the free version.


I could see a way that this curriculum could be adjusted some and applied for use with my high school accounting students, especially those that would like a challenging assignment, as they have already mastered what we’re working on in class.  The ability for the masses to educate themselves in so many fields is a great idea for society in general. 

In my opinion, online learning is simply a newer, better version of using a textbook and classroom.  The information that used to be contained with the textbook and the teacher are now available to anyone willing to learn it on a computer.  While not all learners have enough discipline to effectively learn alone using online courses, there are many that can.  For those that can’t, blended learning models could be employed in schools to help enrich the classroom experience for those that chose to use the traditional learning model.

Here is a link to MIT’s free course offerings:


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Comment by Theresa Allen on February 24, 2014 at 9:44pm


When you stated that online learning is simply a newer, better version of using a textbook and classroom, it got me thinking.  With the research I did this past week, I found that, if done correctly, online learning can actually be more rich and provide deeper meaning than traditional classrooms.  I chose to get my Masters online because I didn't want to sit in a classroom for many hours, once a week, and then work on projects without discussing them until the following week.  But having said that, many of the courses I found were more independent and lacked the discussions and collaborations.

So, online learning can certainly be a new a better version of the traditional classroom IF it's done right.  :)

Also, great example of using MIT's online course.  I've always wanted to check them out!

Comment by Janelle Shumaker on February 24, 2014 at 9:53pm


I think you have a great idea for using some of the Free Open Online from some of these major universities with your high school students.  Like you said, it might be something for the more advanced students who would like to feel challenged.  Although you talked about how these courses wouldn't count for any "class credits," but can you imagine how great that would look on students' college applications?  To say that they independently took a class from Harvard or MIT?  That would probably be motivation enough for many of your students to try it out.  I would love to hear how that goes if you choose to do that with your high school students.  

Comment by Richard Cole on February 25, 2014 at 5:33pm

Theresa, I should have expounded a little more on my thought.  What I meant by newer, better version of a text is that you can have access to even more knowledge, thanks to hyperlinking.  But, it is still just a tool.  As you stated, it has to be used correctly.


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