As much as we may want to follow the excellent, oft-given advice to “never stop learning,” in the real world continuing our educations past grade school and college can be difficult. Higher education doesn’t come cheap, and it’s hard to make room in our already busy lives filled with family obligations and work responsibilities to go back to earn more degrees or certifications.
At their least expensive, most continuing education courses offered by local schools and universities can cost over $100 per course. Even classes or lessons given by professionals throughout the community can be pricey (which is fair; if someone has a specialized skill they can teach to others, their time and knowledge is valuable and they should be compensated for educating their students).
Most of us recognize the importance of continuing education, of constantly trying to learn something new and expand our knowledge. But even a hundred bucks here and there over time really adds up when you’re living on a budget and trying to build your emergency savings, boost your retirement contributions, and save for future goals like a home down payment.
The good news is that we have far more resources for expanding our skillsets and continuing education than most of us realize.
There are a variety of websites out there that provide education, training, and skill-building opportunities, free of charge, for anyone who wants to log on and expand their horizons.
Check out these top no-cost resources for online continuing education
The Best Choices: Coursera, Academic Earth, and Khan Academy
Coursera provides users with over 400 courses from top universities like Georgia Tech, Yale, Berkeley, Northwestern, University of Florida, and Ohio State - all for free. Anyone can sign up and browse the course listing, and enroll in classes they want to take.
All the learning is done digitally, just like taking an online course in college (complete with quizzes and assessments!). You can learn and complete the courses on your own time and schedule.
Open Learning and Open Education Programs
Open education promotes no cost, accessible-to-anyone learning opportunities. There are a variety of excellent organizations who offer “open learning” programs that pull together coursework from major schools around the world. Many educational resources are available from global organizations OpenCourseWare Consortium and OpenLearn.
Some prestigious universities that offer open education programs include:
The Easy Way Out: TED Talks
TED Talks are a more informal version of continuing education than actual coursework, but these resources are no less valuable. The recorded talks are short but packed with information that can serve as a jumping-off point into a new subject, or as an educational lecture series when watching content on related topics (like food, the environment, or our educational system itself).
The point of the TED organization is to spread ideas and they do that very well. This resource is perfect if you’re looking for education that comes in a package that’s a little lighter than a full, straight-from-the-university-classroom course.
Learn a New Language: DuoLingo
Before you bust your budget and spring for the high-priced Rosetta Stone software, try learning a new language for free with DuoLingo. The site offers courses in Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Italian, and you can learn from anywhere. DuoLingo offers an app you can use on your smartphone or tablet in conjunction with their website, so you can make steady progress whenever and wherever is most convenient for you.
You can even apply what you’ve learned into real-world situations. Chat with other users in the forums and volunteer to translate web pages and other documents that users have submitted. It’s a great way to try out your new skills and practice getting immersed in the language.
Free Your Inner Geek: Code Academy, Treehouse, and The Code Player
Free resources for continuing education aren’t limited to courses or programs. There are several websites where you can quickly access and download thousands of books at no cost.
While not the most beautiful websites in the world, they are great alternatives or complements to your local library. For the classics, try Project Gutenberg. Amazon also offers lots of free ebooks, many of them classics, to download straight to a Kindle device. And if you’re looking for reference materials, Bartleby is a great option, or try searching through the databases on IPL.
Continuing to educate ourselves doesn’t have to come at a high price, or cost anything at all. Thanks to the wealth of information that the Internet provides, there are numerous free resources and learning opportunities that we can take advantage of on our own time. So get out there! Continuing education resources that will provide you with new skills and knowledge are waiting for you.
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Kali Hawlk is a freelance writer and content manager currently working on building her business and becoming a full-time solopreneur. She's passionate about personal finance, careers and business, and all things Gen Y--and she writes about it all on her blog, Common Sense Millennial. An avid runner, she enjoys getting outside as often as possible when she's not immersed in blogging and helping other small businesses build and manage their online presence. Connect with her on Twitter @KaliHawlk.