A recent New York Times article discussed a growing movement in which colleges and universities are putting lectures and course materials online for anyone in the world to access. Lectures by professors from Yale, MIT, and UC Berkeley, among others, are available on sites such as YouTube and iTunes for no cost as part of the “open educational resources” movement. Though originally intended as a tool for educators, the vast majority of people accessing these materials–43 percent at M.I.T. and 69 percent at Yale–are independent learners from across the globe. While these students do not receive grades or degrees, they are afforded the chance to pursue an education that may lie beyond their financial means–on their time and their terms.

Though this method of education is a stark contrast to the traditional classroom-based methods, the New York Times reports that students learn a full semester’s worth of material in half the time when online coursework is added. The online classroom certainly has its pros and cons. It allows students to participate in the course while maintaining a full-time job or other obligations, but it can leave certain students craving the four walls of a classroom, where discussions with peers and educators flow naturally, and professors are readily available to discuss difficult texts and assignments.