Katie Hafner's recent NYTimes article An Open Mind, answered some concerns I had had about students learning through free, online courses such as those offered through the M.I.T. OpenCourseWare Initiative.
One of my concerns was that students accessing these courses as independent learners would have no one to answer their questions or reply to their reflections. One solution to this concern is answered at the Peer 2 Peer University. Peer 2 Peer University, which is a tuition-free nonprofit experiment financed with seed money from the Hewlett and Shuttleworth foundations. At P2PU a 'course organizer' leads the discussion but you are working with others so when you have a question you can ask any of your peers. Ability to network with others taking the same course could be extremely helpful. It sounds as if you could even create online study groups.
Another site which pulls together open courses from various universities and encourages students interaction is the University of the People. According to Kafner's article, students not only interact, but students even grade one another's papers! My reaction - Why not? In my own teaching experience I've found that given a good rubric to follow, students usually grade each other very effectively and sometimes even offer good, constructive feedback.
My other concern with open educational resources was accreditation. Students may accrue a great deal of knowledge, but if they don't receive any official certification of this knowledge would it ultimately be useful to them for job-seeking purposes? Both Peer 2 Peer University and the University of the People do not at the present time offer accreditation, but both seem to be in the process of seeking to offer it in the future. It's a wonderful world!