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Real Credit for Virtual Courses: How to Get Credit for Free Classes

Apr 28, 2011

Online course material (also known as OpenCourseWare, or OCW) can provide free education. But how can it be used to earn credits toward real-world degrees? Read on to find out.

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By Stacy Redd

Student learning at the computer.

Study.com recently ran a survey finding out what people want to get out of free education. Many respondents reported that they would like to receive credits toward actual, accredited diplomas and degrees. Those degrees, however, are awarded for passing courses, rather than merely taking them. Passing courses requires taking exams and completing other assessments. And online courses cannot easily assess how much users are learning. For example, exams often need to be graded by actual humans. Even assessments that can be electronically graded are problematic because you can cheat more easily than students being monitored in a classroom. Perhaps the best option that currently exists, therefore, is to pair free, online course materials with real-world or fee-based exams.

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Current Options

Online material can be coupled with real exams in a few different ways. Begin studying with the free open course materials such as those offered by the University of Notre Dame. You can also find free practice for common standardized tests, such as the GED, SAT, and GRE. Finally, some online courses also provide possible topics for essay questions that might be used in real-world courses.

Students taking a test


Although you can't get credit from free course materials, you can use these resources to learn the content necessary to 'test out' of costly college courses. The College Board has developed a program called CLEP, which stands for College Level Examination Program. CLEP tests are standardized exams for common, introductory-level college courses. The exams are administered online, and the content they assess is usually equivalent to a one-semester college course. Although the exams are not free, they are cheaper than tuition for most students. Many colleges offer course credits to students who earn acceptable scores on CLEP tests.

Future Possibilities

Creators of online courseware are actively working toward providing you with free and accredited material. In the future iit might be possible to earn actual credits for taking free, online courses. At the moment this exciting possibility largely remains unrealized, but you can still use free educational materials to learn about new and exciting topics and to advance your learning goals.

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