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Free Online Classes in Finance and Investing
Linda Goin

When I look around at my friends, family and neighbors these days, I can tell who has a budget and who doesn't. Those individuals who have a budget and stick to it seem very calm. I have to wonder how they learned how to handle their personal finances and their investments, as these subjects aren't taught in most schools, nor by most parents. But, fortunately, we now have computers – and free online classes in finance and investing.

I found some free financial and investment classes when I was researching another subject, and I was pleased and surprised at the simplicity involved in these courses. They aren't for children, as these courses are college-level classes offered online as OpenCourseWare (OCW). But, the courses I'll point you to in a moment also aren't meant for people who invent theories such as E = mc2.

OCW began with MIT's (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) efforts at capitalizing on the potential of the internet to eliminate borders and geographic distance as obstacles to an instantaneous exchange of knowledge and new ideas. That effort began in China in 2003 and quickly spread to Japan. Today, MIT offers the widest variety of course materials online in the U.S., but the OCW movement is worldwide through the OpenCourseWare Consortium. Not all colleges or universities are members of the consortium, but many colleges outside this organization also offer free materials that are similar to OCW.

Unlike distance learning programs that charge tuition, provide formal instruction and limit participation, OCW offers all course materials free to everyone with online access. OCW does not require any registration and is not a degree-granting or certificate-granting activity. It is instead an effort to share knowledge and make the best educational use of the Internet's potential.

I can only imagine what it would be like to be a college student today at a state college somewhere in the middle of the country – if that student has access to the Internet, he or she also has access to classes taught at some of the finest colleges in the country. And, even though I always operate under the adage of “you get what you pay for,” the idea of Open Source has altered my attitude about sharing information. I'm one of those individuals who is beginning to view Open Source as a philosophy, rather than a pragmatic methodology.

If you followed any one of those links above, you may learn about colleges outside MIT that use the OCW program. No matter your hobby or interest or career field, you may find some classes at this institutions that could boost your knowledge about any given topic. Since we're here together now at BUYandHOLD, I'll help point you to some courses that may help you get a handle on personal finances, in no particular order:

  1. Fundamentals of Personal Financial Planning: The University of California at Irvine carries this course, which includes information about how to define and reach financial goals like retirement and estate planning. The course outline is on that linked page, so you can begin at the introduction or simply go to a section that appeals to you the most.
  2. Family Finance: The course material in this Utah State University offering isn't as extensive as the one listed above. But, they offer links to books, online resources and other materials that can help families to identify personal and family values and to establish appropriate financial goals. This university also carries a series of OCW materials on economics.
  3. Investing for your Future: This example offered by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is one example of a free course that is not included in the OCW formal group. But, if you look at the history for this course, you can realize that six land-grant universities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission put this material together. That's not a shabby background, and the information in this course is vital to a great investing knowledge foundation.
  4. Debt and borrowing in its wider context: Open University is a UK resource, but the personal finance information in this module pertains to anyone who wants to learn more about the universal concepts of debt and borrowing. Open University also carries a course on Investment Risk.

I can't ignore MIT with all its offerings, so here's a short list of two large departments within MIT's OCW offerings:

  1. Economics: This page contains links to both undergraduate and graduate-level courses on economics. These courses go beyond the personal checkbook, and allows users to understand local, regional and global economics. While nothing in this courseware states that these courses may help your investment strategies, it doesn't hurt to learn how economics affects public life – and, in turn, how they can affect the markets.
  2. Sloan School of Management: Sloan School of Management within MIT is a world-class business school. Even if you're not a business owner, you can learn how businesses operate...or, perhaps, how they might operate for more success. These courses might help you to understand how or why your investment choices are failing or succeeding.

Please don't let these courses seem intimidating, as many of these “courses” often consist of a syllabus, video lectures, written lectures or lists of resources that you can tap into. You're not being graded for what you can or cannot understand, so the learning is non-competitive. And, some of the “courses” offered by various universities are so slim that you can walk through them within 30 minutes.

On the other hand, you may find other resources on the Internet that could take a lifetime to peruse. One of those resources includes Investopedia. While not part of the OCW Consortium, this site contains everything you might want to know about every possible form of investment. This site, among many other online resources, is a great tool to have in your personal financial reform arsenal.

I feel the need to remind you that even smart people make unwise investment choices. And, smart people often go bankrupt. Just because you might know the theories behind quantum physics like the back of you hand doesn't mean you know how to balance your checkbook. While these free courses can help readers understand certain subjects within a few minutes or hours, putting that knowledge into practice may take a lifetime.

Until Later,
Linda Goin

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