The web is an amazing collection of no-cost resources for lifelong learners. I’ve shared hundreds of resource links on this blog and there are millions of others available to help anyone in their pursuit of learning.
I often take learning-oriented websites for granted. But, every once and a while, it’s important to consider how these resources came to be. Without people taking the time to support no-cost learning opportunities, the web would offer learners little more than skateboarding videos and pictures of baby animals.
Learning advocates have done so much in this area, but self-education resources can continue to improve. Imagine a future where: collaborative textbooks can be downloaded to your computer or e-reader at no cost, millions of out-of-copyright books are available in digital or audio formats, opencourseware classes are provided by every university, and no-cost academic journals are available at the click of a mouse. These realistic possibilities could have a huge impact on our ability to learn independently.
This month, I’m making it a goal to improve self-education on the web. Care to join me? Here are a few easy and impactful ways to help:
1. Ask universities to favor open access research policies. The most current research in any topic is published exclusively in academic journals. Unfortunately, these journals pay writers nothing while charging outrageous amounts for the research they provide. According to Right to Research, some journals cost $20,000 for a one-year subscription. Accessing a single article could cost up to $30. An independent learner may not be able to access these journals unless they’re connected to a university or have a lot of money to spare. Right to Research puts it this way:
“Digital technologies have opened new opportunities for research. New tools facilitate faster discoveries, speed the development of new technologies, and accelerate the progress of science. Patients could have access to the latest medical research, citizens could evaluate scientific information on environmental impacts, and developing countries could apply the most recent scholarship to public health and development efforts. But access barriers leave these opportunities under-explored. Open Access is an alternative to the traditional closed, subscription-access system of scholarly communication. Open Access makes the results of scholarly research available online for free, immediately upon publication, and removes barriers for scholarly and educational re-use.”
You can help create a more collaborative system of learning by encouraging universities to create open access policies. Write a letter to schools in your area and let them know you support open research. You may also want to encourage the government to create an open access policy for research funded by tax-payer dollars. Why should the results of publicly-funded studies be so expensive to read?
2. Collaborate on an open textbook project. According to one study, the average undergraduate student pays around $4,000 on textbooks a year. People involved in self-education can be more selective about their book purchases. But, it’s often a challenge to find the material that’s needed when publishers think nothing about charging $100 for a paperback volume.
Open textbooks are available at no cost. These are often donated by professors (sometimes asking for a donation from satisfied readers). Other times, open textbooks are a collaboration of work between many experts.
You can help make open textbooks a reality by signing the Make Textbooks Affordable statement or by participating in projects such as OpenTextbooks.org. In addition to contributors, open textbook projects need help contacting current textbook authors to see if they’re interested in making their work available via an open license.
3. Contribute to opencourseware projects. A growing number of universities are offering free online class material to the general public. However, we need to keep in mind that these valuable resources cost quite a bit of money to the participating school (MIT’s stand-out program cost just under 4 million last year) and are vulnerable to budget cuts.
There are a few ways to support opencourseware projects. If you have money to spare, a donation is the easiest way to keep the programs funded. You can also help by donating technology / software or shopping via the links on the school’s website (MIT, for example, will receive an affiliate payment from Amazon every time a user purchases books after clicking on one of their links). If your company uses the material for employee training, you may wish to suggest a corporate donation. (See: Why Donate?)
4. Proofread free ebooks. eBook collections such as Project Gutenberg have made a tremendous difference in the lives of independent learners. You can now download thousands of out-of-copyright volumes without paying a dime. The problem: many volumes were converted quickly and are full of typos.
You can make a difference by becoming an ebook proofreader. You can do it in your spare time and only have to commit to a page single page. Thousands of people are already working together to ensure the quality of publicly available ebooks.
If proofreading isn’t your thing, consider helping in another way. Project Gutenberg needs volunteers to find books with expired copyrights, promote the website, and burn CDs for people who don’t have internet access.
5. Help record free audio books. Creating public domain audio books is a massive undertaking. But, once a sizable collection is available, lifelong learners will have an invaluable way to learn anywhere. Unlike a book or a website, audio books can be used while people do their errands away from home. You can listen to Plato while exercising or hear Darwin’s thoughts while driving to work.
Even if you’ve never had any experience, you can record a free audio book via LibriVox. You can choose to record just a chapter or do the entire book yourself.
If you are a professional voice actor, you may want to audition for a site such as Literal Systems or find an audio book recording group in your area.
Do you know of other ways to support self-education on the internet? Have a story to share about participating in one of the above activities? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.