Free education has always been: libraries (apart from schools, but that’s not entirely free either). You go to a library, grab a book, read and learn.
It then became a little more about learning from the internet. You watch YouTube, read blogs, tutorials, google information. Again, all done in your own time, but this time from anywhere you have access to the internet.
None of the above free education sources have really given you a structured, sometimes officially recognised education. Everything was left for you to research, read, find the right places to find the right information, often dig through the clutter of useless crap we find on public domains.
I have recently come across a website called Coursera. In summary, as they put it, “Coursera is an education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.” Basically, a free course of the topic of your choosing, where at the end of it – you can even get a certificate from the university that hosts the course, which you can add to your resume.
Some of the great things about this, is how current the information in those courses. Instead of buying text books written last year, you are given examples that sometimes are literally days old. Case studies that can be applied to the world today.
Since starting a course in Coursera just to see how things go, I’ve come across a few other websites, offering something very similar – free education for everyone, everywhere. One is called edX and the other Udacity. Now, what will happen to those universities who do not adapt with change and stick to their current business model, which is in most cases, an expensive 3-5 year in-class degree? For some courses, of course, you will always need human interaction and proper, controlled training. But for many others – who knows, but some universities will end up where many book shops and video/music stores are now, closed.
UPD: Came across another one, this one geared more towards designers: Aquent Gymnasium