Free Education on Your Own Time

9 02 2014

As a productive community member of today’s society, you can probably share a great summary of how the world of technology has individually evolved for you and changed the means of how you communicate and learn on a daily basis.  Technology accessibility has changed the face of our educational system, and the learner is no longer confined to the traditional classroom to learn the tools needed to be a contributing society member.  Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek (2012) explain:

In the last few years, distance education has become a major topic in education.  In a recent year, over 60 conferences dealt with some aspect of distance education, and almost every professional organization’s publications and conferences have shown a huge increase in the number of presentations and articles related to distance education.  Many educators are making grand claims about how distance education is likely to change education and training. Certainly, the concept is exciting, and recent hardware and software innovations are making telecommunications distance education systems more available, easier to use, and less costly.  Distance education has begun to enter the mainstream. (p. 4)

The exciting news about distance learning and education is you do not have to be officially enrolled as a student to experience distance learning! According to OCW Consortium, “Open Education incorporates free and open learning communities, educational networks, teaching and learning materials, open textbooks, open data, open scholarship, and on and on. Open Education gives people access to knowledge, provides platforms for sharing, enables innovation, and connects communities of learners and educators around the world” (www.ocwconsortium).  Open courses afford you the opportunity to experience what other enrolled college students are learning for free!

This week in our graduate Distance Education course we had a chance to review an individual open course to see how it fit into the parameters of the distance learning environment.  I chose to examine an open Yale course entitled Phil 181: Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature. First and foremost, the technology component of distance education is critical, but there are other important factors making up a distance learning environment.  Simonson et al., 2012) states:

As important as is the appropriate selection and use of technologies of instruction and communication, technologies are not critical elements in shaping students’ satisfaction with their distance course.  Rather, satisfaction is determined by ‘the
attention they receive from the teachers and from the system they work in to meet their needs.’ Those needs, ‘what all distant learners want, and deserve’ include:

  • Content that they feel is relevant to their needs
  • Clear directions for what they should do at every stage of the course
  • As much control of the pace as learning as possible
  • A means of drawing attention to individual concerns
  • A way of testing their progress and getting feedback from their instruction
  • Materials that are useful, active, and interesting. (p. 176)

When you open the course, you see clearly identified links directing the learner to the syllabus, course sessions, survey, and where to buy books.  The layout of each of the 26 learning sessions is one I found simple to navigate.  Each session has an overview, listed assignments, a reading guide, reference guide, a lecture video (divided by chapters), and different formats of course media.  The course revolves around the three central themes of Happiness and Flourishing, Morality and Justice and Political Legitimacy and Soul Structures.  The sessions flow according to the intent of the course objectives.

In exploring the above criteria by Simonson et al., (2012,) the open course does have related content the learner of philosophy will find relevant to their needs.  I would have liked to see the session layout include a section on the learner’s next steps and how to proceed through the sessions.  The video format and reading guide does offer the learner control over pacing their learning.  They can start and stop at their own pace.  Although the course offers the learner a chance to complete a survey, I would have loved to see some type of chat software or discussion where the student has the option of reaching out to other learners taking the open course or even to ask the faculty to offer some additional feedback to explain a concept. The materials for the course are offered in HTML, MP3, and video formats, which offers the learner different technology formats.  The exciting part for me was the video lectures! Even though I was not a physical part of the classroom, the video lecture drew me in and connected me to the learning experience versus moving through a module that required a bunch of reading.  Dede (2005) argues:

Increasingly, people want educational products and services tailored to their individual needs rather than one-size-fits-all courses of fixed length, content, and pedagogy. Whether this individualization of educational products is effective depends both on the insight with which learners assess their needs and desires and on the degree to which institutions provide quality customized services rather than Frankenstein-like mixtures of learning modules. (p.8)

In my review of the open Yale course, I found overall that the distance format does embody most of the above elements of a distance course I outlined by Simonson et al., (2012) and will offer the distance learner an average to above average experience with the distance learning environment.


Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles. Educause Quarterly 28(1). 7-12

Gendler, T. S. (2011). Phil 181: Philosophy and the science of human nature. Retrieved from Open Yale Courses website:

Open Courseware Consortium (2014). What is open education? Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson



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