Among free education advocates Saylor.org is leader offering absolutely free educational resources online. The Saylor goal/vision is to create “a zero-cost alternative to those who lack the resources to attend traditional brick-and-mortar institutions” and to provide those mainstream learning providers a free complement of resources online. The Saylor Foundation was created in 1999 but is now making headway and waves with 241 course titles of which 83% has been fully fleshed out with lectures, assigned readings, supplemental activities and exercises and assessments, all by an army of qualified subject matter experts.
I had a chance to trade emails with several of the Saylor Foundation staff and learned a lot about their organization’s character and especially their use of Moodle which provides the backbone of their assessment system. Saylor’s course catalog is available to any one interested in learning a concept on the web; start here: http://www.saylor.org/. But if you’re interested in the assessments you’ll need to register at their Moodle [http://school.saylor.org].
As you explore the course ware you’ll note that it’s both consistent and easy to navigate (though the content sources vary across topics from 3rd party websites, OCW videos from Youtube and other web content). According to Saylor,
We hire credentialed professors to create course blueprints and to locate, vet and organize OER materials into a structured and intuitive format. The professor hired to create each course also designs an assessment, which is hosted in Moodle. Upon completion, a team of consultants peer-review the course materials and assessment to ensure the level of knowledge available in the course is at least equivalent to a similar course at a traditional U.S. college.
Why not host the course content in Moodle? Saylor’s trustee (Michael J. Saylor, Chairman, CEO, and President of Microstrategy) is adamant that Saylor’s content be as open as possible. Registering for Moodle is simple and easy, however even a required login/registration process can prevent learners from connecting with free content online. “We’ve made our site as open as possible– it’s all plain as day– anyone can see all the content upon their first visit to the site” says Alana Harrington, Saylor’s Director.
From a student’s perspective, OCW like that found at Saylor provides an easy to use and straightforward learning system that seems unparalleled on the web: a simple interface, easy to follow directions and visual representation of the “completeness” of the course materials all helps to make a great experience. And once a student is ready they can register (for free) for the Saylor Moodle (v1.9) and take an examination to gauge their understanding of the concepts. Once they’ve received a passing score students get an automatic certificate to download (Saylor courses are not offered for credit and are not recognized by any accrediting organization.
Saylor’s free education covers 13 subject areas (from computer science to political science and art history to history) in nearly 250 planned course titles.