Top 10 Tools for a Free Online Education

Kevin Purdy on Lifehacker posted his take on the Top 10 Tools for a Free Online Education and I found it inspirational.  Take a look and try one today.

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It’s easy to forget these days that the internet started out as a place for academics and researchers to trade data and knowledge. Recapture the web’s brain-expanding potential with these free resources for educating yourself online.

Photo by Sailor Coruscant.

10. Teach yourself programming

Coding, whether on the web or on the desktop, is one of those skills you’ll almost never regret having. Coincidentally, the web is full of people willing to teach, and show off, programming skills. Whether you’re looking to knock out a modest Firefox extension or tackle your first programming language, there’s no requirement to run out and buy the thickest book you can find at Barnes & Noble. Google Code University, for instance, hosts a whole CSE program’s worth of straight-up coding lessons in its bowels. We’ve pointed out a lot of other programming resources found around the web, so you should be able to get started in almost any project. As for the random, unexpected, seemingly inscrutable bugs, well … welcome to the fold.

9. Get a Personal MBA

“MBA programs don’t have a monopoly on advanced business knowledge: you can teach yourself everything you need to know to succeed in life and at work.” The Personal MBA site occasionally updates its list of dozens of helpful business books, designed to teach both the nuts-and-bolts money stuff and the kind of thinking one needs to get ahead in sales, marketing, or wherever your interests lie. A business school can offer networking, mentoring, and other perks, but nobody can teach you enthusiasm and business savvy—except yourself.

8. Learn to actually use Ubuntu

Too often, newcomers to Ubuntu, the seriously popular Linux distribution, find that their questions about any problem great or small is answered with a curt “Search the forums,” or “Just Google it.” From experience, that’s like telling someone there’s maple sap somewhere in that forest, so here’s a nail and get moving. With a brand-new installation sitting on your computer, few resources are as straight-forward and comprehensive as the Ubuntu Guide, which is packed with common stuff like installing VLC and getting VLC playback, but spans across topics including Samba and remote printing configuration. Author Keir Thomas also offered Lifehacker readers a little preview of his Ubuntu Kung Fu in two excerpts that tweak one’s system into a faster, more efficient data flinger.

7. Get started on a new language

Nobody’s pretending you can talk like a local without some immersion experience. But there’s a lot of resources on the web for honing an already-sharpened second language, or at least picking up some of the vocab and nuances. Learn10 gives you 10 vocabulary builders delivered every day by email, through iGoogle, through an iPhone page, or most any other way you’d like. One Minute Languages podcasts its lessons and lets newcomers stream from the archives. And Mango Languages has about 100 lessons, shown to you in PowerPoint style with interstitial quizzes, to move you through any language without cracking a book. Not that books are bad, of course, but this is stuff you can crack out during a coffee break.

6. Trade your skills, find an instructor

As Ramit Sethi put it in our interview, many people don’t realize the value of the skills they do have, whether it’s something as simple as higher-level English or software lessons for those in need. A site like TeachMate capitalizes on the inherent disparities in our interests, letting someone willing to teach a bit of, for example, Russian language get cooking lessons in return. If a site like TeachMate doesn’t quite reach you, try Craigslist, which, especially in a recession, is brimming with people looking to trade skills instead of cash.

5. Academic Earth and YouTube EDU

We have to guess that having a giant, searchable database of free academic lectures was just too good an idea for two different web firms to pass up. Academic Earth has been described as a Hulu-like aggregator for lots of major universities’ content, and offers the slicker and more navigable front-end for them, as well as allowing embedding and sharing with no restrictions. YouTube EDU might have a broader reach, and the player and format might be a bit more familiar to most. Both sites offer both individual lectures and full course series, and are definitely worth checking out.

4. Teach yourself all kinds of photography

Sites like Photojojo and Digital Photography School are oft-linked resources around Lifehacker, and for good reason. They let the uber-technical shooters run wild in forums and discussion groups, but focus the majority of their front-page posts on things that beginning DSLR shooters and moderate consumer-cam photographers can grasp and mix into their daily camera work. Of course, we’ve compiled and sought out our own digital photography advice at Lifehacker, including photographer Scott Feldstein’s guide to mastering your DSLR camera (Part 1 and Part 2), and our compilation of David Pogue’s best photography tricks, plus ours. Then there’s the simple pleasures of posting on Flickr, seeking out Photo by Marcin Wichary.

3. Get an unofficial liberal arts major

Whole-mind learning doesn’t end the day you declare a major and start sending out resumes. A huge number of universities offer up some of their most unique and fascinating resources for free online, posting up databases, image galleries, and all kinds of stuff you wish you had time to dig through during your undergrad years. Learn everything you ever wanted to about Picasso at Texas A & M’s Picasso Project. Indulge your inner geo-geek with super hi-res images from Hirise at the University of Arizona. Tour the world’s spaces in 3D with The World Wide Panorama at UC Berkeley. Wendy Boswell discovered those resources and way more in her discovery of the .edu underground, and you can find a lot more down there, too.

2. Learn an instrument

If being dropped off at the music store/mall/piano teacher’s house wasn’t a memorable part of your childhood, you might dig the digital age’s equivalents a lot more. Guitar players, in particular, have a lot of places to turn for video, audio, and graphical teaching tools. Adam rounded a lot of them up in his guide to learning to play an instrument online. If you want to build a foundation for learning any instrument, though, Ricci Adams’ has Flash-based tutorials that offer a gentle tour through keys, time signatures, modalities, and the other ins and outs of notes and chords.

1. Learn from actual college courses online

A huge number of colleges, universities, and other degree-granting universities are going all open-source these days—giving away the actual guts of their courses, while retaining their revenue stream by awarding degrees only to those who pay. In this day and age, though, programming, marketing, design, and other self-taught skills are pretty valuable, however you came by them. Whether you’re looking to break into a field or just augment your skill set, dig into our guide to getting a free college education online, which we then updated a bit with Education Portal’s list of ten universities with the best free online courses. Just think about it—at home, with your coffee and comfortable chair, you’re far more awake than the average co-ed who totally should have hit the hay a bit earlier last night.

Where do you turn when you have to teach yourself something? What skills or topics would you like to see more coverage of on Lifehacker, or just anywhere on the web? Help us plan a curriculum in the comments.

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