Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Thinking of tertiary study or deferring?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-12-22

A tip for those thinking of deferring tertiary study next year, or those who, after time away from study, are thinking of enrolling:

How would you like to use the materials of one of the most respected educational institutions in the world, for $0 (unless you want to donate), to develop (or redevelop) your study skills in your own time, without pressure, get a feel for whether a particular subject actually interests you (before you waste your money on enrolling), and/or get a head start on the subject?

This is useful even if you want to learn things, but can’t afford the time and/or money to go to a uni.

Visit MIT Open CourseWare.

From OCW, you can download all the course materials (lecture notes, assignments, and even videos) for a huge range of undergraduate and postgraduate units (some translated to other languages): everything from theatre arts through management through to nuclear engineering.

And the courses have some darn good units: the electrical engineering and computer science stream includes units that cover the basics of molecular, cellular and tissue biomechanics which will be essential in a few years, for example.

You simply go to the site, run down the left hand side to find the course, look in the main frame for the units you are interested in, click to view the unit summary, then download the materials (e.g. Foundations of Western Culture I: Homer to Dante) as a relatively small zip file, which you can use without a connection to the internet.

The only things not included in the zip file are large files like videos of lectures or demonstrations – but there are links to these, so you can grab those quickly enough anyway – especially with some of the video download helpers available for firefox.

This is especially useful for those thinking of going back to study.  When I’ve told my friends to buy a couple of textbooks (even if unrelated to what they plan to study, but something they have a natural interest in), then practice writing summaries and going through exercises, so they can get back the skills that may have atrophied, I’m laughed at more often than not.  About three months later, I get "wish that I’d listened to you… I’m behind because it took me so long to rebuild my study muscles".

So, if you have just finished secondary school, and are thinking of deferring (and getting some money through employment), I highly recommend you keep your hand in by using MIT materials.  If you don’t like a unit at MIT, this might help you avoid choosing those units when you have to pay for them at an Australian institution.

Of course, there is no substitute for actual laboratory work for science and engineering, or speaking a foreign language, but if you’ve gone through the MIT lectures, you will certainly be able to make the most of your lab time.

I’ll say again that postgraduate courses are included, which are equivalent to those "masters by coursework" qualifications that I admit may include useful information, but don’t deserve the title "Masters".  Some of my friends who are doing these courses admitted that using the MIT (and Harvard Business School Working Knowledge) resources cut down the time required for their assignments by 50%.

Consider this tip a festive season present from me to you.

(Normal transmission will resume in a few days… I’m offline (even from email!) spending a few days with my daughter, grandson, an civil-celebration-godson.  Felicitations of the season!)


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