When I applied to Yale last fall, I couldn’t help but daydream about the minute possibility of me getting in. I would view the list of courses offered by the Ivy League university, and immediately become excited, anxious, and eager to learn. I remember one particular class that genuinely captured my attention and interest – Death, a course taught by the brilliant Shelly Kagan that philosophically explored topics related to humanity, the spirit, life after death, and how we should view dying. After going through an early action deferral, I was ultimately rejected from my dream school; but this did not prevent me from immersing myself in the Yale philosophy course I was so eager to sign up for.
On a cold, rainy, spring afternoon, a coincidental Google search brought me to Yale’s YouTube page where I then stumbled upon Shelly Kagan’s course – in its entirety. Death was just one of many Yale lecture courses on YouTube. The course was uploaded in 45 minute installments (one for each class), just like you were a student there. The only difference is that I wasn’t paying thousands of dollars per credit hour, didn’t need to purchase books or take notes, and wasn’t forced to write the papers or fight my way through the registration period to actually get into the class. It was the Ivy League, but without the stress, without the bureaucracy, and from the comfort of my own home.
Yale is not the only university to open up its lecture courses to the World Wide Web. Stanford has stepped into the YouTube game as well. On its YouTube page, you can find playlists which, again, include classes in sequential order for the benefit of your learning experience.And YouTube isn’t the only venue where these reputable courses are being offered. For example, a number of alternative Yale courses are available on the Open Yale Courses portion of Yale’s actual website. You can find everything from African American Studies to Astronomy included under these open courses; and on that domain, you can actually download documents related to the course material in addition to watching videos of the lectures.
Coursera is another great website where you can find thousands of courses from a number of universities. Simply search what you want to learn about, and plenty of lectures from many different sources will be ready to watch. Brown University’s Coursera page is one of the most notable where you can actually sign up for courses, and upon conclusion, receive a certificate of completion from the professor. This route is little more formal than the YouTube version, as you must actually enroll (for free and with no limitations) and have a very manageable “workload” per week (which is stated in the course description). Select classes available through this venue include Coding the Matrix and The Fiction of Relationship. Other notable universities found on Coursera include John Hopkins University, Berklee College of Music, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the University of Melbourne, Wesleyan University, Columbia University, and the University of Pennsylvania – among many others.
Another website, edX, joined Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, and the University of Texas to provide yet another method for free online learning. This website functions very similarly to Coursera, but with different partners and a different variety of classes.
The point to take home here is that these prestigious universities are not as secretive and mysterious as some make them out to be. You don’t have to be in Skull & Bones in order to learn directly from Professor Shelly Kagan – you just need a stable internet connection and 45 minutes of spare time. These free online courses serve as a great way to connect with any college or university before, during, and after the application process. You not only learn the course material, but can also see the inside workings of a school and become acquainted with how a lot of the classes and professors operate. YouTube, Coursera, and edX are windows into the enigma of college classes and learning.
One final benefit of utilizing these tools, which I’d personally like to highlight, is that those who look them up online are doing so for the right reasons. The viewers who log on are undoubtedly intrinsically motivated. There is no grade attached to a YouTube course, no spot on a resume to say “I attended Brown University’s summer Coursera page.” If you’re logged on, you’re learning for the sake of learning, learning because you want and love to learn. Immerse yourself in the intriguing courses that can change your outlook on medicine, technology, and life; and find yourself a more interesting and perhaps more importantly, interested person than before.
The next time a summer afternoon thunderstorm comes along to ruin your day by the pool, you’ll have something to do: go inside, turn on your computer, and start watching Shelly Kagan blow your mind with his arguments on how we should view living and dying on this planet we call Earth.