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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Your Virtual Ph.D

No more pencils, no more books: With PopSci's guide to the best continuing-ed programs on the Web, you can lose the paper and still gain a grade-A education
Want to master a new computer language? Brush up on your calculus? Learn how to fix your car? No sweat. With the vast array of college courses and podcasts available online, the apple of knowledge is ripe for the clicking. Here, we've narrowed the options to our favorites—the best of the geeky best, from free podcasts and lectures to accredited distance-learning programs from major universities.

MIT OpenCourseWare
What Is It? Similar in philosophy to open-source software, OpenCourseWare offers anyone free access to course materials for virtually all of MIT's undergraduate and graduate courses. Once upon a time, you needed at least a library card to get a free education. But with this site, you can get rocket-scientist smart without even paying late fees.

Why's It Cool? This is a site for people who enjoy the pure pleasure of learning. You won't get credit for any of the course work—in fact, you won't even have access to teachers—but if you're a self-starter and curious, you can dabble in any of the subjects that MIT offers.

Can't Miss? The sheer volume of subjects available is stunning. The site offers course materials in everything from aeronautics to biological engineering to linguistics.

Harvard Extension School
What Is It? The Harvard Extension School provides access to roughly 100 online courses in art, science, math and technology, all from the comfort of your couch. Upcoming fall courses range from an introduction to Greek literature to a variety of Web-development classes.

Why's It Cool? These courses bring students right into the classroom with video lectures that are posted along with the other course materials. Bonus: Distance learners are always welcome to drop in on the real lecture if they happen to be passing through campus.

Can't Miss? For a sneak peek of what these courses are like, a few sample lectures are available online.

Stanford Center for Professional Development
What Is It? The school offers more than 250 courses in subjects ranging from bioengineering to nanotechnology. Coursework is delivered through a variety of mediums, including the Internet, television broadcast, videotapes and two-way video. Scientists and engineers flock to this program to enhance their professional skills.

Why's It Cool? The classes fit a wide variety of educational needs. Students can enroll in short courses and seminars aimed at improving skills in specific areas, or they can sign up for the long haul with certificate programs and even graduate-degree programs.

Can't Miss? Instructors include some of the crème de la crème of Stanford's school of engineering.
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