It’s that time of year again. Families are savoring the last few days of summer vacation, and proud parents are posting pictures of their kids, fresh-faced and eager, headed back to a brand-new school year. We tend to think of “back to school” events strictly as kids’ activities, but… when is the last time you learned something new? When did you last put your brain into gear and set out to master something new and exciting? The internet has made an astounding range of learning opportunities available at little to no cost, and you can adjust your schedule and workload to your convenience. Here are some of our favorite sites for learning something new:
TED (Technology Entertainment Design) features an ever-growing collection of talks about a wide range of subjects. These short (usually less than 18 minutes) talks are not detailed how-tos, but they are fascinating and often inspirational introductions to topics, served up with enthusiasm and humor.
On YouTube you can find a vast array of helpful tutorials on more subjects than you can imagine. Want to learn glass blowing? Scuba diving? Hippo herding? Chances are, someone’s made a YouTube video about it! Part of the fun is, you never know how good (or how bad) your instructor will be. Just take everything with a grain of salt. It’s pretty easy to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Facebook has numerous groups where you can share and learn with others on many topics. From blacksmithing to gardening, music to jewelry making, and so much more. You may find that you learn best when you are part of a “community of learners”, where the lines between teacher and student are blurred, and everyone is sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm. Facebook tends to work very well for supporting this social aspect of learning.
Khan Academy offers an extensive selection of on-line classes from Kindergarten level through high school and beyond. They have also partnered with institutions like NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences, and MIT to offer specialized content.
Coursera offers college level courses from top universities for free. That’s right: a FREE college education. There’s no diploma at the end, of course, but if you’ve ever wished you could stay in college forever, without ever declaring a major, well, here’s your chance!
Looking for something a little more advanced? MIT offers a wide variety of both undergraduate and graduate level courses for free.
We’ve focussed on online resources in this list, but don’t overlook learning opportunities in your local community as well. There are usually plenty of clubs, classes and get-togethers to match your interests. And if not, perhaps you can start your own.
In short, never underestimate the benefits of being a lifelong learner. Your brain will stay healthier and more flexible, and you will find yourself with a renewed sense of purpose in life.