How to learn (almost) anything online

Photo by Wonderlane

The web is an autodidact’s dream – if you have a desire to learn something, there’s a good chance learning materials on that subject are available for free somewhere online. The problem is how does one go about finding it? There’s very few sites where you can find a wealth of content – most open learning initiatives run by established institutions offer just a handful of courses at a time.

In this article, I’ll be going over sites that bring together a large selection of learning content in a variety of media and subjects.

OCW Finder

Several years ago, MIT made big waves in the higher education community by deciding to place all their learning materials online, and make them all available for free. Though MIT is still far and away the leading institution in this open learning movement, they’ve since been joined by a number of other large universities around the world. Even with a massive catalog of courses available, it’s still fairly easy to search or browse courses by subject through OCW Finder.

Since the content you’ll find on OCW Finder comes from so many different sources, the quality and types of learning material provided can vary substantially. Just as a comparison, I looked at two classes on Game Theory, one offered by MIT, the other by Yale. While the MIT offering had only some of the lecture notes and assignments, the Yale version had full video of all class sessions as well as copies of the exams. This example illustrates how you can use a resource like OCW Finder to compare the available courses without digging through a hundred university websites.

The Khan Academy

In the news recently for receiving a $2 million grant from Google, the Khan Academy is massive library of learning videos created by one man, Salman Khan. He’s managed to build an enormous following among secondary and college age students around the world thanks to his informal teaching style and prolific video output. The subjects covered tend to skew towards Khan’s background (he’s a former hedge fund analyst), with the majority of videos on math and finance. The physical sciences and statistics are also covered, though not nearly to the same extent., a product of the Goodwill Community Foundation, focuses on teaching skills to adult learners. This means most of the courses are focused on teaching life skills (like filling out a job application), personal finance, and basic computing skills.

Other resources

If you don’t have the time to slog through a semester’s worth of readings and lectures, there’s also a few sites out there that provide standalone learning resources.

The Open Culture blog offers huge lists of free learning resources for easy browsing.

The TED conferences bring together leading thinkers in a wide variety of fields to discuss their projects, and most all of the talks are posted online in videos that rarely exceed 20 minutes. The results are frequently entertaining and highly inspiring.

Google invites authors, politicians, and artists to present to their employees and posts videos of the talks on their Talks@Google Youtube channel. Compared to the TED talks, these lectures run much longer and tend to be much more informal.

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  1. Jiheishou Daigakusha
    Posted December 5, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    There are other ways. I taught myself a lot about UK copyright law and a little bit about US copyright law with no more than a WAP enabled phone, Opera Mini, and Google Search.

  2. Posted May 19, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for mentioning us! We have recently updated our site and are always adding new content. Our free, online, instructor-led courses in Microsoft Office are very popular, as well as our new Social Media tutorials. Check back often and let us know if there is anything we can ever do for you!

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