Free College Classes: a Review of


So, if you or your kids are in the market for a college education, you'll want to read my recent posts on mobile learning and open education. Never before has a college education been more important to a successful life, and never before have so many options been available to someone seeking such an education. Indeed, in the face of so many options, it can be difficult to determine which one is the best fit for you. Information then becomes a critical part of your quest for education. Here is information regarding a particular open education option—Education Portal—to add to your knowledge arsenal.


What is Open Education and how does Education Portal fit into it?

First of all, to refresh your memory: the Open Education movement is a grass-roots movement aiming to remove barriers to quality education by providing free or low-cost teaching materials and courses. is an exclusively-online provider of free university classes. They are taught by video, with accompanying transcripts and quizzes that students can take on their own throughout the course. A full class consists of just over 100 lessons, each averaging 7 minutes in length, which makes for a class that lasts about 700 minutes or 11½ hours of class time. This is roughly one-third of the class time of a typical university’s Psych 101 class.

The goal of every Education Portal class is to prepare students for a corresponding College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam, which provides anyone who has gained knowledge through methods other than a traditional university course (e.g., independent study, home school) with the opportunity to apply for college credit without having to actually take that course. Credit earned from passing the exam transfers as actual college credit to more than 2/3 of U.S. colleges and universities. The $80 exam fee is the only cost of a Portal class, and the passing of an exam is worth up to 12 college credits.

Education Portal Screenshot

The goal is to have one online course for each of the 33 CLEP exams offered. Stacy Redd, Content Development Coordinator for Education Portal, says they’re excited to have Calculus and Psychology 101 complete and another 13 in the works. There is no traditional homework, and while it isn’t possible to get a full associates or bachelors degree through the site, one could eventually earn as much as 396 credits toward those degrees at a traditional university of their choosing once there is a full course for every CLEP exam offered. That is, needless to say, significant.

Is all online learning better?

Overall, the concept of free, fully-online learning is intriguing. The Education Portal platform definitely allows more freedom and flexibility in the learning experience for a greatly-reduced price, which will appeal strongly to those who realize the value of a college degree but, for whatever reason, don’t want to pursue one through a traditional university or even a for-profit institution. Students have complete flexibility as to the pace and places in which they take each class, and the order in which they take them. That will greatly appeal to those students who are working full-time while pursuing a college degree, which is a good number these days. The classes are typically 101-level, the type of classes that, at large universities, are taught to hundreds of students at a time. This is a more customized experience, though not necessarily more personal.

The reality is that the jury is still very much out on the effectiveness of technology in education overall and on whether it should completely replace traditional teaching methods. Indeed, in the elementary and secondary education system, debate rages about technology’s role in the classroom. Sixth-grade teacher, blogger, and education technology workshop speaker Bill Ferriter says, “You can’t motivate students with technology because technology alone isn’t motivating.” Michael B. Horn, executive director of the education practice at Innosight Institute, a non-profit education think tank, says, “Districts that see the most advantages use technology for active, not passive learning, giving students control over the pace of their learning. Technology has proven to be an exciting way to bolster student learning as it allows us to customize an education for each child according to his or her distinct learning needs.”

College girls studying

So ultimately, the classes, and therefore the educational institutions, that will be most effectual are the ones that will combine elements of technology-based learning and real-life instruction or interaction. Many educators have realized that offering a class that offers only one of those elements is detrimental to its effectiveness. Most 100-level classes taught at universities these days, in fact, include various online and real-life elements, because teachers know that students are more likely to retain and score well if the things they learn theoretically are reinforced with elements learned through other modes.

What is "Blended Learning?"

Blended learning,” or learning that incorporates both “real-life” and technology-based teaching methods, appears to be the best of both worlds, according to researchers at the University of Central Florida, or the methods that are most motivating to students. They say, “Our research has shown that while student success and high levels of student and instructor satisfaction can be produced consistently in the fully online environment, many faculty and students lament the loss of face-to-face contact.” To that end, staff members at Education Portal are working on incorporating live chats with tutors, and creating an engagement platform for online users to connect. These elements will be essential to the success of Education Portal.

Indeed, if they are incorporated into their model, it is exciting to think of the possibilities: free classes developed by web experts and taught by passionate professors, no expensive textbooks, the ability to take a class when and where you please, with the opportunity to engage with others in real-time if not in real-life. Says Ms. Redd about the future of the Open Education movement, “Beyond being a great option for independent learners, or as supplements for traditional students, free online educational resources can allow students to drastically cut down on the cost and time of a college degree and that has the potential to be truly life-changing for a lot of people.”

Did you attend college? What classes did you learn most in? What had the biggest impact on you?

Laptop photo courtesy of Flickr.

College girls photo courtesy of Flickr.




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