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Audit a College Course Free Online

Many prestigious colleges are posting classwork on the Internet.

Ever wish you could go back to school? Now you can, without spending a dime. Colleges and universities worldwide are posting course materials on the Internet. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which pioneered the so-called open-courseware movement, will have at least some teaching materials online from all 1,800 undergraduate and graduate courses this fall. Other schools with a free online presence include the University of California at Irvine, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Notre Dame, Michigan State University and Harvard Law School.

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But access to materials is just that. You don't get credit toward a degree, nor are you able to interact with professors or other students. And the utility of what you can access varies greatly. You might get little more than a syllabus and reading list for one course, but another might have a full complement of lectures -- via audio podcasts or video webcasts -- complete with exams and answer keys. What is posted is often left to the teachers.

Larkin Fessenden, 53, was surfing the Web when he found UC Irvine's "Fundamentals of Financial Planning." Fessenden, a computer programmer who happens to live in Irvine, got "a good overview" of investing, insurance, taxes and retirement at http://ocw.uci.edu/courses. "I don't know if I hit every part. I like that you can jump around." Easy to do in a virtual classroom.