Kids are headed back to school again after winter break, and while it may have been a number of years since you’ve forgotten your locker combination, had lunch in the cafeteria, or crammed for finals, the opportunities for continuing your education never end.
Read on to explore nine ways you can expand your horizons from the comfort of your computer and completely free of charge.
1. Get an Ivy League Education
If you want a degree from an Ivy League school, it’s obviously going to cost you. But the next best thing is right at your fingertips – and free – through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Open Course Ware program. MIT offers free and instant access to more than 1,800 courses in subjects ranging from sciences to humanities to business management. As their website states, “MIT is committed to advancing education and discovery through knowledge open to everyone.” This commitment has lead them to share with the public, free of charge, lecture notes, exams, and other resources for every course offered through MIT’s curriculum. Though you won’t walk away with a degree in Chemical Engineering, you will have easy access to the same educational resources as the MIT alumni that proudly display their framed diplomas on their office walls.
2. Learn to Cook a New Favorite Dish
Whether you seek basic baking instructions, want to sharpen your culinary skills, or are simply ready to get out of a recipe rut, Epicurious offers tips, techniques, and tastes for all levels of cooks and bakers. If you’re running out of novel ideas in the kitchen, you can either head to the store to buy a new cookbook, or you can browse Epicurious’ free database of thousands of recipes, organized by cuisine, season, and level of difficulty. Even better than the static pages of a cookbook, this website hosts culinary technique videos that demonstrate everything from tying a roast to caramelizing sugar to assembling a wedding cake. After these free cooking and baking lessons, you might find your recipe repertoire expanding overnight.
3. Catch up on the Classics
If you’ve been meaning to catch up on the classic works of such authors as James Joyce, Louisa May Alcott, or Thomas Hardy, look no further than the free e-books collected by Project Gutenberg. When the copyright expires on a popular book, it becomes part of the public domain and frequently goes into Project Gutenberg—an online collection of more than 20,000 free e-books. Browse their list of the top 100 e-books, updated each day, to see the most popularly downloaded titles. If you prefer to hear recordings of the classics, visit LibriVox. LibriVox solicits volunteers to record readings of public domain books, and then offers these recordings, free of charge, on their site. There are currently over 1,000 audio files available for download – so you can add a classic recording to your iPod and listen to it while you jog on the treadmill, commute to work, or clean your house.
4. Become a Life Saver
Of all of the skills to have under one’s belt, the ability to save a life is surely one of the most admirable. If you’d like to learn how to save a loved one, a co-worker, or even a stranger in distress, visit Learn CPR, a free, online source of illustrated guides and tutorial videos produced by the University of Washington. Here you can learn how to properly perform CPR, as well as how to help a choking victim. Of course, those in need can come in all shapes and sizes, so Learn CPR covers proper techniques for administering CPR or first aid to adults, children, or infants that are choking – or even the family pet. Though you’ll hopefully never need to put these skills to use, it’s a comfort to know that you’re prepared to be a lifesaver if the need should arise.
5. Remodel Your Home Like a Pro
Are you planning to remodel your bathroom, landscape your backyard, or design a deck addition to your house? If so, Sketchup is a free online tool that is powerful enough to be used by professionals in architecture and design, and yet simple enough for you to use when planning your next home renovation. Sketchup is a 3D modeling program that can be downloaded for free and used in a variety of ways, for any number of remodeling projects. “From simple to complex, from conceptual to realistic, Google SketchUp helps you see your vision before you build it.” After playing around with this accessible modeling tool, you might find that you’ve been harboring a hidden talent for architecture and design!
6. Reach Your Goal Weight
To successfully lose weight, many people rely on the support of encouraging friends. If you’d like to connect with a community of folks that are also trying to whittle away at their waistlines, visit My Fitness Pal. This site features an exercise journal, a searchable food database, a calorie counter, body mass calculators, and message boards, all in one place, and all free of charge. This free online community brings dieters and exercisers together to discuss successes, setbacks, tips, recipes, and advice. Since the tools on this site work with any diet plan (Weight Watchers, South Beach, The Zone, etc.), you can have healthy living discussions with community members who can relate to the challenges that you’re facing in your quest for weight loss, no matter what program you follow. Having 24-hour, free access to support, advice, and helpful tracking tools might be just what you need to reach your goals for weight loss and fitness.
7. Hone Your Drawing Skills
Have you always wanted to be able to pick up a pencil and create a masterpiece on paper? If so, visit Drawspace, an online resource of free drawing lessons for beginner, intermediate, or advanced artists. Drawspace offers step-by-step instructions on how to draw everything from cartoon animals to realistic landscapes. Learn the classical technique of crosshatching to create shadows and the illusion of light in your drawing. Master the proper use of perspective to make your representational drawings appear three-dimensional and visually correct. Or, simply see the steps involved in drawing an adorable cartoon puppy or pig. Regardless of your previous artistic experience, Drawspace can help you discover your inner artist, or hone your sketching skills so that you can take your drawings to the next level.
8. Learn a New Language
Even if you aren’t anticipating a trip to foreign lands in the near future, you still might have the desire to learn a language that’s new to you. Learning a new language not only allows you to connect with new people and cultures, it also creates new connections in your brain, acting as a powerful mental workout. To jumpstart your foreign language studies, Duolingo offers free online courses in more than a dozen different languages. If you’re already fluent in French, why not try a more exotic language, like Irish or Norwegian? Another useful language to learn is sign language. Visit the American Sign Language University website to peruse an online video dictionary of hundreds of standard signs. By learning a new language, you’ll be opening the pathways of communication with a new segment of the world population, while simultaneously strengthening your brain. It’s truly a win-win (or gagnant-gagnant) situation!
9. Perfect Your Golf Game
Whether you desperately need to stop your slice, or you’d just like to learn a few new moves to lower your score, Golf.com offers dozens of free lessons on perfecting your golf game. Visit the Golf.com instruction page to browse videos on reading the green, chipping from the fringe, and dealing with nasty trouble shots. You can also read articles from top golf instructors on managing the course and working on your mental game. Armed with these new tips and techniques, you could be hammering the ball longer, playing smarter, and lowering your score the next time you hit the green.
Do you know of a great free resource on the web? Let us know by sharing a comment with your neighbors below.