There is a flurry of competition in the arena of free online education. Major universities have put classes online for free. There are dozens free books, movies and courses available from Openclass. Site like HTMLGoodies is a great place to learn how to work with computers. Lets not forget about Khan Academy. The most recent news story is about Apple's push into education via iBooks2, iTunesU and iAuthor. All of this provides the world with an (up till now) unbelievable amount of free, authoritative, trustworthy and understandable education.
Can we now expect droves of people flocking to public libraries and hunching over cell phones in hopes of improving their lot in life by improving their minds? Maybe. I'm reminded of Thomas Paine when he said “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly." Free public education is esteemed so lightly that laws are in place to force students to attend classes. Libraries have long held texts filled with information the general public could use to educate themselves. So far, few people have taken full advantage of these resources.
Thankfully, there are some distinct differences between past attempts at providing free learning and what is going on now. Free public education has been run on a strict schedule and in a defined location where students are forced to associate with people they dislike and sometimes fear or hate. Now, the learning can happen whenever it is convenient and wherever students are most comfortable. There is no need to sit next to a bully or sit quiet and still for an hour or more. Furthermore, students can access courses that are most relavent to their lives. Perhaps the most important aspect of online learning is that it can be as minute as looking up proper spelling to being as in depth as learning basic Spanish. And all of it is nearly instantaneous.
Libraries have had their own barriers. Like all buildings, they have a specified schedule and are located in a specific place. If you have a hard time getting to that place at the specified time, you're out of luck. Perhaps two of the least obvious roadblocks were literacy and (more often than not) sight. Youtube and recorded lecture/ podcasting has drastically reduced that barrier.
More and more, the internet is becoming a place of astounding resources for improving people's lives. God willing, the trend will continue.