With the rising cost of college education, some learners are left wondering if there are alternatives to earning a meaningful education. Distance Learning can take place in many forms, some choose to use an online search engine to research a given topic, others may choose to go to an accredited online institution, and then some choose a free open course to distance learning, an approach that is available to anyone with a computer and internet capabilities.
Open Source education is for those interested in online learning without the cost. Although a degree is not gained from completing these courses, learners are offered a wealth of knowledge and the ability to go at their own pace.
An Open Source institution worth looking into is MIT Open Courseware or Massachusetts Institute of Technology http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm . Distance learning at MIT Open Courseware has over 2,000 courses, ranging from
Aeronautics and Astronautics to Writing and Humanistic Studies. I selected Chemical Engineering to see what experience I could gain as a beginner who had very little background knowledge and the Intro the Psychology to compare and contrast a college course that I had taken before.
The courses are carefully planned in that it provides materials to students that are similar to paid course management systems. Each course has tools ranging from lecture notes, exams and solutions, assignments, multimedia, and a RSS feeds to let the students know if there are updates in the course. All courses have a course number, a course title, and a course term. As I browsed each course, I noticed that there were college levels for instance the Introduction to Numerical Analysis for Engineering was an undergraduate course. There was also a course description and even a professor. The syllabus noted course meeting times, prerequisites, a rationale, objectives, textbooks, grading and a class survey. The calendars lay out what materials will be covered from each lecture and the readings tell students which sections to cover for each lecture. The lecture notes list details in bullet points and graphics, for students who did not participate or for those needing assistance on which material is considered most important. Assignments range from in class assignments to those assignments that require more time. The answers are provided to each assignment at a later date and the site also lists exams.
The Masie Center (2002, p.8) identified five abilities that e-learning standards should enable:
1. Interoperability-can the system work with other systems? (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009, p. 255) Although this site was specifically designed for MIT Open Courseware, its implementation can be the template with other domains and web hosting sites.
2. Re-usability- can courseware (learning objects, or chunks) be re-used? Successful distance learning Course Management Systems have the following criteria: course management (includes syllabus as noted on this site, calendar, and learning objectives. Readings: CMSs typically provide a tool for listing required and recommended course readings.” Content Presentation: “Many faculties maintain archives of lecture notes online for student review.”
Course Communications: “communication tools normally packaged with CMSs including asynchronous e-mail capabilities from one to one, one to several, and one to all within groups.” This website offers RSS feed and OCW news. Group Project Space: The need for self contained work space for groups within the course site. Student Assessment: exams and quizzes. The frameworks of this site can be used for other Open Source Distance Learning programs.
3. Manageability- can a system track the appropriate information about the learner and the content? (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009, p. 255)Learners in this system are using a self check process to evaluate work.
4. Accessibility- can a learner access the appropriate content at the appropriate time? (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009, p. 255) Learners can access this material at anytime.
5. Durability- will technology evolve with the standards to avoid obsolescence? (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009, p. 255) As new material is introduced learners have chance to grow. Learners were offered activities to maximize the active learning process.