Henry Ford said that “anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” Technology today provides many opportunities for learning at any age, whether apps for preschoolers, podcasts for parents on the run, or certificate courses for the busy professional. Here are four ways to learn online for free.
From basic how-to websites to university courses, there are thousands of educational websites. Watch out for joining fees, testing fees, or annual subscription fees. Some websites charge for official certificates, while others let you print them from home. Some universities offer free courses, while others charge a basic tuition rate to take them for credit. If taking courses for educational or professional credit, be sure the course is properly accredited or approved for your field. Be aware some sites may contain educational material on every subject, not all of which will be appropriate for you or your family. Also pay attention that the resources you utilize or download are either public domain or approved for legal download.
Popular how-to websites that generally passed our internet safety filters include: About.com (videos), EHow (text and videos), Howcast (videos), Make (text, videos), SuTree (videos), and WikiHow (text).
Educational videos for homeschool or tutoring are an excellent way to help kids learn online. Some of our favorites are TeacherTube (videos) and Pioneer Woman homeschool resources (text, links). For middle school and older, also try YouTube School (videos), HippoCampus (resources, content, images, videos), and iTunes University.
For all ages, from preschool to post-doc, we use Open Educational Resources (text, videos) to plan modules, units, and courses. Open Education Database (text, audio, video, courses) has everything from classic pieces, like a 1981 video of Ted Koppel interviewing Carl Sagan to an entire fall 2011 course on 9/11 and its aftermath.
For adults wanting to further their education, many universities offer free classes online. These often change throughout the year so check back often to find new courses. Here are some of our favorites: Harvard-MIT Initiative (videos), Open Yale (audio, video, text), Open Education Consortium (search audio/video open courses in universities all over the world), Princeton Media Central (audio, video, webcasts), Connexions (textbooks, reports, modules). GCF Learn Free (text, video) offers classes in technology, math, science, reading, typing, and office skills. Alison and Future Learn are both UK-based sites that offer a variety of full courses in a more structured format. Open Culture (audio, video) is a website that organizes all the free university courses from all over the world by course topic.
Podcasts are audio only, and can be downloaded to your smartphone or mp3 player. Some are individual classes, but most offer a series or a course on a particular subject. Learn Out Loud is a popular one that offers classes and courses on most everything. Many educational television stations also have podcasts, such as BBC and its children’s podcasts), Discovery Channel, and the History Channel with its audio archive of famous speeches (see here for a whole list of great history podcasts).
Project Gutenberg started the ebook movement, making books available for free online, and now includes audiobooks. In August 2014, Project Gutenberg partnered to launch Outernet, which hopes to bring literacy by satellite for countries and rural areas that do not yet have access to the internet. Other ebook sites include: Free Ebooks (textbooks, audiobooks, children); Free Book Spot (scientific, engineering, programming); AskSam (classics, legal, government); and Get Free EBooks (fiction, new authors). Also, Online Books Page lists and links to more than 30,000 free books on the web.
Apps make it possible to use handheld devices as your own personal university or library! Some apps, like this list of educational apps for children, are free all the time. Many apps have free versions that include ads or limit usage time, but work just as well as the full price versions without ads. Others are hard to play with or disruptive because of all the in-app purchase options. There is good news, though: you can also watch for specials or discounts, such as the $49 app, Autism Track, which is an expensive app for parents of children with autism but is free one day a year on Autism Awareness Day (here is a list and another list of other autism apps discounted that day or during the month of April). Sometimes it is not that specific, such as Kindergarten.com making all their apps free only during the month of April, even though their apps are not autism-specific (or kindergarten-specific, so check them out for all little ones).
For adults, apps are usually very content specific. There are some GED apps, some GRE apps, and other apps for specific entrance exams like med school or law school. Most of these will have limited features in the “free” version, but if nothing else will give you the chance to try out which apps you really want to budget for before you actually buy them. Language and other specific course study apps work the same way, offering a free version to try and a full version to buy. Remember that gift cards for app stores is a good way to save money on those expensive apps, if you haven’t already used the gift cards up on music only!
Websites, podcasts, ebooks, and apps are all great ways to continue learning online, whether it is summer school for the kids or weekend study for the grown-ups. Watching schedules for free courses offered and special deals on quality apps will give you greater access to legitimate education. Multitasking while listening to a podcast, or relaxing with an ebook while you are stuck in a waiting room are easy ways to cross homework off your list. With so many opportunities today, we never have to stop learning.
Emily Christensen lives with her husband in Oklahoma. Her Ph.D. is in marriage and family therapy and she is pursuing a second degree in Hebrew and Jewish studies. Her blog is housewifeclass.com and her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.