The University of the People, set up in 2009, offers a new tuition-free gateway to a higher education. It offers courses in Business Administration and Computer Science through e-Learning over two to four years. It currently does not offer degrees and is not an accredited institution, though it intends to apply for accreditation and for authorization from recognized agencies and authorities in accordance with the rules, regulations and relevant timelines of said agencies and authorities.
This is an interesting idea - there are no fees or charges, how can they make any money? The most interesting thing for me is that a short course "Skills for Online Learning" is compulsory for all students. The course provides the students with a basic introduction to the computer applications which they will use to pursue academic studies in an online environment, and must be passed before students are allowed to continue. It's clear from browsing its website that it intends to rely a lot on open source material.
Open Content is one of the Emerging Technologies in Education that I have written about in a previous post - I agree with the 2009 Horizon Report that we will see much more of this. Several companies, such as the Galway-based Alison offer free on-line courses, Alison does state that it is a for-profit social enterprise. Alison appears to me to make money from advertising and donations.
Long live the day when you can learn anything for free online. Need to know something? Look it up in an on-line encyclopedia. Need to figure out how to do something? Look it up on a "How To..." channel in YouTube, such as my own ;-)). Need to understand a difficult concept? Go to iTunes U and watch a podcast from a top University Professor. Want a free on-line course? Go to the University of the People or to Alison. Quality, assessment, and proof of accredited certification will be a huge challenge. Nevertheless, there are more opportunities for people to upskill themselves for free than ever before. This will become a more accepted way for people to learn in the very near future. Traditional educational institutions - watch out!