Q&A: Free help in online education

Answer: Yes: how much free help there is!

Before electronic media was widely available, if you were taking a college course, you had the textbook and the instructor's lectures…and that might be it. Your professor had office hours, and your college might have tutoring labs. Otherwise, you had to go to the university library and physically search for related materials.

Now, people are giving away help. Sure there are places that charge you: online tutoring sites, or places that give sample study guides away to get you started, then charge you, but overall, there's more free help than you could ever use, in just about any subject you can imagine.

Are you struggling in math? The Khan Academy has hundreds of videos to help you. If you're really rusty, you could start with addition and work up through calculus.

Is English giving you trouble? You could find grammar or ESL help. Purdue University's Online Writing Lab is one of the best all-around sites for help with college-level English.

This online help doesn't stop with drills and handouts. Textbook prices have been rising at twice the rate of inflation for years…but you can find lots of the books online. Project Gutenberg offers over 30,000 books for free. Or try Amazon's free books for Kindle.

There's more. MIT is one of the best universities in America, and they put many of their course outlines online. Want to study aeronautics at MIT? Or historical research methods? You can get the lecture notes, the lecture videos and the exams for free, through MIT OpenCourseWare.

To get actual college credits, you'll still have to pay, at least most of the time, but if you want to learn, or just need help, plenty of free resources exist.

Greg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He's taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He's taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He's developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He's won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He's also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.