Searching for Courses
So how should you go about finding course materials not already in the P2PU library? Beyond Googling "free online course in [topic]", (which honestly works pretty well), there are a few discovery sites that we often turn to when looking for learning circle course content.
- National Science Digital Library provides high quality online educational resources for teaching and learning, with current emphasis on the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
To understand the various players in the world of free, online learning, it's helpful to distinguish between the production of course materials (commonly called "courseware") and the dissemination of the course (often through a learning management system). Some well-resourced universities do both production and dissemination, such as MIT OpenCourseWare (MIT), Open Learning Initiative (Carnegie Mellon), Open Learn (Open University), OpenHIP (Hasso Plattner Institute), and Wisc-Online (Wisconsin's Technical Colleges). Materials shared in this manner are almost universally open access, meaning that you can download course materials, remix them, and basically do whatever you want with them.
Other universities (and increasingly, businesses) enter into agreements with third-party organizations to host and disseminate their courseware. In exchange, the courses become available on the terms of the disseminating organization. Sometimes, as is the case with OERu, there is a clear commitment to open access and you can rest assured that course material will remain freely available in perpetuity.
More often, as is the case with edX, Coursera, FutureLearn, and Udacity, an account is required to access course materials, certain courses may not be available all of the time, and some resources may even be put behind a paywall. A number of universities that work this way, including University of Michigan, Yale, SUNY, TU Delft, and Johns Hopkins retain open access versions of the courseware on their websites. The user experience may not be as good as when it's hosted on edX or Coursera (sometimes it's just a .zip file of PDFs), but you may find the content easier/more reliable to access.
There are plenty of non-academic organizations that create their own free online courses, either through in-house learning design or by contracting out to subject matter experts. Some, like Alison, Khan Academy, Lumen Learning, OpenClassrooms, and Saylor Academy, provide course materials in a wide array of subjects. Other times, organizations develop course materials exclusively in certain topics, such as digital literacy (DigitalLearn, TechBoomers), psychology (Noba), science and engineering (ChemCollective, EngineeringTech), social change (Acumen Academy), US history (The American Yawp, The Avalon Project), workforce development (SkillsCommons, GCF Learn Free), web design and development (Codecademy, FreeCodeCamp, W3 Schools), and writing (Writing Commons). BCcampus Open Education maintains an OER by Discipline Directory which lists a wide range of open educational resources organized by discipline.
The type of content that can be used as the basis for learning circles extends far beyond what you think about when you think about "online courses". While using the materials presented in this section may require a bit more adaptation up front, many successful learning circles have been run using the nearly infinite breadth of material freely available on the web. Common types of resources include:
With a few well thought-out discussion prompts a book group can certainly be a learning circle. There are millions of freely available books that have been digitized are available to download or borrow from Feedbooks, Open Library and Project Gutenberg. Public domain audiobooks are available on LibriVox.
Many exam prep websites include free practice tests and additional resources to support test takers. Successful learning circles have been run using freely available materials from the GED and HiSet high school equivalency exams, US Citizenship and Immigration Services citizenship test, and NCLEX registered nursing exam.
The internet is your friend! Blogs, video series (like TED Talks), open journals, databases, and archives can all serve as the basis of content for your learning circle. A few of our favorite reference sites are Digital Public Library of America, Encyclopedia of Life, Internet Archive, Library of Congress, WikiHow, Wikiversity, and of course, Wikipedia and YouTube.
If your library/institution pays licensing fees for proprietary resources like GALE, Lynda, or Universal Class, then you are of course free to use those materials for learning circles so long as none of the cost is borne by the learner. You can add these courses to the P2PU course library, but they will only be visible to you and fellow team members, as the purpose of the P2PU database is to surface materials that are freely available to everyone.