Great Resources and Websites for Free and Low-Cost Education
First things first: watch Middle Men. It isn’t always easy to pick a movie for two, and our areas of interest don’t often converge: my boyfriend likes historical/epic/adventure/Fast and Furious and I like gritty/dark/foreign language. But we have a few common themes we can always agree on. So when we saw the Netflix description of Middle Men that included “entrepreneur” “billing for online porn” “FBI” and “Russian mobsters”, we knew we had a winner for the night. The comedic timing of Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht is brilliant (“Tell that to the judge” “Judge, we’re not pedophiles!”), Laura Ramsey has the screwed-up but outwardly smooth and confident young porn star down to a t, and you’ll be rooting for Luke Wilson to make it. The backstory on this “almost true story” is just as interesting, and it’s surprising it made less than $800,000 at the box office, when much worse movies have done so much better.
On to education: I often
preach talk about how important it is to educate oneself. A self-directed education is the best way to open new paths for your life. I never got passionate about learning and understanding new ideas until after I graduated college. I liked learning but only in a general, passive way. I was usually thinking more about when class would be over, who I needed to strategically run into, whether the snack bar was still serving french fries and other weighty collegiate matters. But in any case, I learned what I was taught. I did not go out and seek new things to learn, study subjects I knew nothing about and find out things about movements or industries that continue to shape our society. But after college, it was up to me to decide what I needed to learn. And I have been learning: at work, in discussions and meetings with leaders of the industry, through classes and a lot of reading.
But I am in a place where I need to take my education and professional development to the next level and I want to take advantage of the online resources that put entire courses, complete lectures and some of the greatest works of man online, making them free and available to all. I am still amazed and grateful for the vastness of the internet. I want to devote some time each day to personal development and these sites are all great places to start.
Websites for Learning Skills, Topics and Languages Online
Khan Academy is great for quick learning episodes you’d like to insert into your life. No signup required, just find a video you like and start watching. How about an introduction to the income statement? Over 3,000 free videos on topics from finance to the humanities are online.
Mango Languages offers language learning online for 22 languages, and each languages has at least one college semester worth of material available. The County of Los Angeles library system offers free access to the site for all residents, as do many other libraries and local governments. Request it at your library if you don’t already have it!
Coursera is a new initiative from Stanford with Penn, Princeton and University of Michigan also joining to create high quality online courses that are free to everyone. It’s pretty incredible to think you can take a free Computer Science 101 course from Stanford, right now and be watching the video less than two minutes after signing up. There are videos, assignments and exercises. I have signed up for CS 101 but also have my eye on Game Theory and Greek and Roman Mythology.
MIT Opencourseware has nearly complete resources on actual MIT undergraduate and graduate courses. You can view the syllabus, lectures, assignments and videos for courses. While it may not cover all of the course contents, you can work through the materials at your own pace and take the course on your own.
Skillshare is an online resource for finding offline classes. This one isn’t free, but the cool concept is that anyone can take any class or teach any class. You could set up a 2-hour session in a park to teach technical writing, sewing, conversational Mandarin or whatever you wanted. You can charge any amount (I’ve seen classes from $20 to $1495) and you just need to get people to sign up for your class. What could you teach? Check the site to see if Skillshare is in your city – if it’s not, they are still a small startup and are looking for ambassadors to begin initiatives in new cities!
Those are just a few that I’ve stumbled upon. I know there are hundreds more out there–what’s your favorite online resource that makes you feel smarter? I’d love to hear them!