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Once-in-a-Lifetime Free Educational Opportunity?

COVID-19 is a once-in-a-lifetime event that all of us wish did not exist. If we could be rid of this plague tomorrow, we would be. But, since we can’t, “the next best thing” may be to try to wring something uplifting out of the experience. Maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to emerge from this “lockdown” as better, smarter people than we were when we went in.

As it turns out, America’s leading universities see it that way, too. In response, they are making a once-in-a-lifetime offer that is hard to refuse: courses, taught by the best professors at the best universities, tuition-free. I know, it sounds improbable that schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale would forego millions of dollars in tuition, but that is what they are doing. And to discover what courses are on offer, all you have to do is visit this Quartz.com article to find the 450 free Ivy League university courses and begin exploring.

Course listings are grouped under the area of study, beginning with 40 courses beginning as follows:

Computer Science

CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science
Harvard University

Algorithms, Part I
Algorithms, Part II
Princeton University

Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies
Princeton University

Seriously? Does it get any better than that? If you see yourself as having a career in this field, or perhaps trying your hand trading in cryptocurrencies, then what better introduction could there be? Additional courses include Machine Learning (Brown Univ.), Animation (Columbia Univ.), Linux (Dartmouth), and Robotics (Univ. of Pennsylvania)… This is the good stuff, the kind of top-notch educational content that most people believe themselves priced out of—until now.

There are additional sections each for Data Science and Programming, after which the person browsing locates Humanities—everything from philosophy and religion to Shakespeare, the American Civil War, women’s studies, Ancient Egypt, and the English language as a professional resource. Anyone intrigued by the history of China is really in luck: there are several Harvard courses devoted to this subject.

When you arrive at Business, there are 68 courses waiting, dominated mainly by the University of Pennsylvania and its Wharton School of Business. Thereafter, Art and Design (20 courses) is followed by Science (31, including neuroscience, genomics, and environmental science), Social Sciences (71), Health and Medicine (34), Engineering (15), Education & Teaching (21), and Mathematics (15). Personal Development (6) may be the most intriguing section of all, what with titles such as Success, Improving Communication Skills, and Finding Your Calling: Career Transition Principles for Returning Veterans.

Using the “450” link as a point of departure, the domain of no-cost courses expands: by poking around and experimenting with various links, names like “EdX” and “Coursera”—platforms for free courses—pop up and offer still more options. It really is amazing how much there is!

Participants are auditing courses and not receiving college credit, although for a free certificates of completion are available. In any case, there is serious work involved: once you commit to a course, you are prompted to watch videos, listen to instructors, complete assignments, and network with other participants. An information-packed course means dozens of hours of effort spread over, say, 10 or more weeks. It’s a real commitment, and the courses’ Ivy League status ensures that the content is challenging.

This is not for everyone: being in a course when there’s no face-to-face contact, and only indirect or occasional virtual contact with other students, might not feel as good as what you remember from pre-COVID classroom experiences. But the financial barrier has been removed, and many of us really do need to learn new things to (1) survive the lockdown and (2) advance our career and personal goals. This opportunity could not come at a better time.

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