Online courses that are free

By Lory Laughter, RDH, BS

Dental professionals seek education for differing reasons. Many seek it only to fulfill continuing education requirements. Others desire to obtain a higher degree or certificate, and some pursue it just for the sake of learning and stay abreast of new information. While we say it often, in my experience very few people seek education for the benefit of learning alone. We profess a desire to expand our minds, but unless compelled by some outside force, most of us do not attend educational events for the pure joy of learning.

I asked a few dental hygienists why seeking lifelong learning is such a challenge, and one answer came up every time: It's expensive. True, pursuing a degree is a financial commitment and even quality continuing education events can take a bite out of your wallet. Yet, armed with the Internet, a bit of desire, and a commitment of time, you can learn free of charge. Yes, I said it; there is free education on the Internet there for the taking. I am not just talking about product or company sites, but real college courses and materials you can access for free. There are no tests, deadlines, or degrees offered — just knowledge and a chance to exercise the brain.

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One of the best offerings of open access to online courses comes from MIT.1 The choices available from MIT OpenCourseWare cover all subjects offered at the school. You can choose courses by topic or department, and the materials range from lecture notes to video lectures and even online textbooks. The website explains OpenCourseWare as a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content that is available to the public. There is even a section for younger students called Highlights for High School. Though a bit out of my high school years, this area of the website was extremely interesting to me. I have found a new appreciation for chemistry from my hour spent learning here. I highly recommend "Death of a Gummy Bear."2

If real life situational learning is more to your liking, FEMA offers web-based learning to satisfy all your disaster survival desires.3 Course offerings on the site include everything from business crisis and management to terrorism and emergency management. There are also six complete college textbooks downloadable for free. Since I am not much of a survivalist, I chose a textbook on the lighter side of doom titled, "Fundamentals of Emergency Management."4 When it comes to textbooks, I am more of a skimmer than a reader, and this book was no exception. It's not a relax-on-the-beach option, yet learning did occur in chapter eight. It is a myth that most people behave irrationally during a disaster, and this myth hampers the effectiveness of emergency response, allocation of resources, and correct informa tion sharing. There are a few colleagues who are going to really enjoy this site, and their education might someday benefit us all.

OpenCourseWare is still a new concept to most learners, and seeking the free offerings from specific universities is time consuming. Luckily, there is a solution to endless keyword entry and searching. OnlineCollegeCourses did the searching and compiled available free courses on one easy-to-use page.5 From this site you can download podcasts, video lecture, and even ebooks — all for free. Your search can be directed by university or course subject.

For my initial search, I chose Tufts University and a link appeared for their OpenCourseWare page. Imagine my excitement noticing that the School of Dental Medicine offered courses through this portal. I chose Histology for two reasons; it appeared more interesting than preclinical denture prosthodontics, and I thoroughly the course in college. The Dent0107 description pointed out this is not the entire course as offered on campus, yet between the lectures and images available one could easily spend the 131 hours stated as the course length. If you choose to step away from dentistry for a moment, I recommend the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy also at Tufts. The foundations of nutrition science lecture series6 are an educational experience you will want to share with patients.

LORY LAUGHTER, RDH, BS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is owner of Dental IQ, a business responsible for the Annual Napa Dental Experience. Lory combines her love for travel with speaking nationally on a variety of topics. She can be contacted at lorylaughter@aol.com.

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