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OpenCourseWare: College education, without the student loans

Free, online lectures and course materials offer Ivy-League classes to everyone.

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From the frigid region of the Arctic Circle to the battlefields of Iraq, a free, virtual classroom is taking hold.

Spurred by advances in technology and people’s hunger to get an extra edge in a down economy, universities and colleges are posting course materials – including syllabi, class notes, and lectures – online for anyone to access. This movement, known as OpenCourseWare, allows self learners to save money on tuition, gives alumni a link to their alma mater, and enables prospective students to peek into university classrooms.

Already more than 200 colleges and universities offer courses ranging from art history to economics for free on demand. The classes can be watched on YouTube or downloaded to iPods. And the consortium continues to grow.

When he served in Iraq, John Shelton, a member of the Navy Counter-IED (improvised explosive device) roadside task force, patrolled while listening to psychology and history lectures from the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y.

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