Lifelong learning: Some free & inexpensive resources

Boston Public Library, Central Branch, main stairwell (photo DY)

Boston Public Library, Central Branch, main staircase (photo DY)

I’m a lifelong learning junkie, and perhaps you are, too. The world of adult education is somewhat stratified right now: If you want to earn a degree, it will cost you money, maybe a lot of it. On the other hand, if your main objectives involve independent learning, intellectual growth, and personal enrichment, your free and low-cost options are virtually limitless!

Let’s start with your public library. A treasure trove awaits, in big cities and small towns alike. Most libraries are now heavily invested in multi-media, offering DVDs and e-books in addition to print materials.

Of course, don’t forget “old” (heh) online standbys such as YouTube and Wikipedia. There’s a staggering amount of good stuff on both.

Beyond the most obvious candidates, you’ll discover so much more. Here’s a sampling:

Open Culture is a rich portal to all sorts of lifelong learning options, including free courses, movies & documentaries, and e-books. Dive in and start clicking around.

Coursera is a popular provider of MOOCs (massive open online courses), mostly free online courses on a wide variety of topics, led by faculty at leading universities around the world. Quality varies, but the price can’t be beat, and some of the offerings are top-notch.

The Great Coursesa commercial entity, offers professionally produced video courses on many topics, with heavy emphases on the arts, sciences, and humanities. I’ve enjoyed a number of their courses over the years. Word to the wise: Never pay full sticker price. Sales are ongoing, and the course(s) you want inevitably will be offered at significant discounts several times a year.

I’ve recently become a fan of Brain Pickings, a site “full of pieces spanning art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, and more.”

For Gen Jonesers, Next Avenue is a great site, with a bevy of articles on topics such as health, personal finance, retirement, and caregiving. This is a bookmarked site for me; I visit it almost every day.

Independent adult education centers — typically found in larger cities — offer courses at reasonable tuition. Here in the Boston area, I’ve taken a weekly singing workshop at the Boston Center for Adult Education since the mid-1990s! (More on that in a later post…) Although I’ve never experienced them, two other centers that intrigue me are the School of Life in London and the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

University continuing education programs usually carry a higher price tag, but there are a lot of good offerings out there, and more are offering distance learning options.

Generally speaking, you’ll find online continuing education courses and free online seminars for virtually every learning niche and specialization. Keep searching away.

I know that some people have very strong feelings, pro and con, about e-reading devices such as Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. Given my druthers, I’d rather read from a book, but I find my Kindle especially useful when traveling. Anyway, my point is that there are tons of good books available via e-reader platforms, at little or no cost. If spending money on a device is beyond your budget, you may download free e-reader apps. You can then check out sites such as Project Gutenberg, which offers over 42,000 free e-books.

Friends, this doesn’t even scratch the surface, but I hope you’ll be inspired and excited by the possibilities.

8 responses

  1. This is a great set of resources! Is it okay if I re-blog it?

    1. Kerry, certainly! Thank you!

  2. Reblogged this on Love Those "Hands at Home" and commented:
    Since I know many of you are curious, inquisitive, and open to learning wherever you can, I wanted to share this with you. David Yamada, a fellow college prof, has put together this great list of life-long learning opportunities. I have friends who’ve taken courses on Coursera, for one, and they loved them! Take a look and check out David’s blog, Musings of a Gen Joneser–good reading!

  3. I didn’t know about a lot of these but I’m bookmarking for future reference. I love to learn.

  4. We are spoilt for choice really.

  5. I’m a stay-at-home-mum who’s trying to get back into the job market, so these online resources are really ideal for me and my schedule. I’ve done a Coursera course and found it excellent.

  6. Great list of resources. Also local artists and photographers may also offer classes, Annie

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