Do you have extra time at home? Want to keep your brain busy with new things to think about? Consider doing some distance learning yourself. Finally, Benjamin Franklin famously set aside an hour or two each day to study, reflect, and experiment so that he could fill in the gaps in his own education, and he continued several successful careers.
Hundreds of major colleges and universities offer online courses that anyone with an internet connection can take. While you don’t get academic credit for taking free classes, you expand your knowledge — and can even show a little solidarity with your kids as they go back to school themselves. Here’s a guide to getting you started.
make a plan
First, ask yourself what subject you want to study and what benefits it might have for you. Are you considering a career change? Would you like to acquire new skills? Or do you simply need distraction in troubled times? Make note of your ultimate goal to help focus your search, as courses are available in a variety of academic disciplines.
Some schools, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are generous. MIT offers the content of most of its on-campus courses for free on its OpenCourseWare website.
To see what’s available from multiple schools, try Class Central, an online course search engine. You can also browse the Open Culture website, which lists more than 1,500 courses from accredited institutions and is hosted on educational platforms such as Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn; These platforms also have many subscription or paid classes.
Click the Register button to log in. If you have the “free” plan, you are essentially auditing the course. But if you pay a fee, you can often get graded assignments — or a “certificate of completion,” which typically starts at around $50.
Other sources for courses
If you’re not quite ready for a college-level class or want to supplement your child’s learning, the nonprofit Khan Academy offers classes designed for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. You’ll find math, science, economics, and humanities courses, as well as cutting-edge computing courses like Pixar in a Box, an overview of the digital animation process.
Get ready for school
An hour of study per day is a reasonable goal, but if you’re considering a course, double-check the exact duration and time commitment so you can plan more accurately and schedule space in your calendar. Some courses are self-paced, while others have a more traditional meeting structure that can last nine weeks.
Find a place to do your homework and store your school supplies. Depending on the course, you will also need specific books, software or other materials. Even when you’re watching recorded lectures, notes can help you retain the information better, so consider a cheap notebook or note-taking app.
Courses for busy people
Too busy to commit to a long course? The Coursera website has a list of courses you can complete in one day. all are free until the end of the year.
And think of the lectures and webinars offered by museums and libraries. The Museum Computer Network website contains a long list of online learning resources from major institutions. Searching your favorite museum sites directly for educational content can also yield results.
Want to know how to change the oil in a newer Honda Civic, make simple toilet repairs, or mend torn clothes? How-to videos posted on YouTube provide a to touch Training in practical questions of daily life. Many popular DIY websites have their own YouTube channels, so you can find content like The Handyman’s home improvement tutorials or iFixit’s gadget repair videos in one place.
And if you want to expand your repertoire of home cooking, start a recipe search on the website. YouTube chefs walk you through how to make red velvet waffles and chicken, or even the infamous Twinkie wiener sandwich, as back to school marks the start of fall home cooking season.