An education is an investment in yourself that, if used properly, will always pay for itself many times over. It’s quite possible that Schoolhouse Rock said it best – “It’s great to learn, ‘cause knowledge is power.” Whether you’re attending a four-year college, reading books by experts in your chosen field, or watching seminars on YouTube, acquiring knowledge is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
In order to succeed in your chosen profession, you need to know what you’re doing, and in order to thrive in that profession, you need to understand that knowledge isn’t a static thing. To stay on the top of your game, you need to be constantly reeducating yourself with the newest information that’s relevant to your industry. Think about it for a second. Would a realtor do very well if he wasn’t constantly reading up on the housing markets? Would a hairstylist survive if she was still handing out hairstyles from the 60’s? Could a lawyer do his job if he didn’t bother to look at new laws or at decisions from other courts that might affect his clients?
The answer to all of these questions, of course, is no. In order to keep yourself valuable to your company, you need to be up to date on everything about your job. To maximize your growth potential at your place of business, you should really know more than you need to know. If your boss quit tomorrow, would you have the necessary skills and knowledge to say, “I can do what he did, let me take care of it?” Chances are, the person with that expertise would jump straight to the top of potential replacements.
And this theory doesn’t just apply to your specific vocation. You may want to learn a skill that compliments your chosen profession, like a painter learning to use Photoshop or a car salesman learning how to rebuild engines. Or, it could be that your educational choices are taking you in a completely new direction. Maybe you’re a banker who’s always wanted to know how to restore classic cars. Perhaps you’re a social worker who’s always wanted to learn to play the violin, or a business major that wants to learn to cook gourmet meals.
Regardless of what you do for a living, the point is this – learning new things can only increase your personal worth. Just look at the “Renaissance Men” throughout history. Leonardo da Vinci is most known as a painter, but he was also a sculptor, architect, scientist, writer, musician, and inventor, among other things. Even if the things you learn don’t relate to your work, or even to anything you normally do, just think of the confidence that you will gain knowing that you’ve mastered a new skill or become knowledgeable on an entirely new subject.
So, what’s stopping you? For many people, the barrier they encounter has to do with either time or money. Taking college classes, even at a community college, can require a big time commitment, and after factoring the price of gas, books, and supplies, a single class can wind up costing hundreds of dollars. At a four-year university, the cost of classes is significantly more, with most people having to take out student loans that take decades to repay. The average person can’t hope to be able to spare the time and/or money necessary to partake in either of these options.
But the beauty of the world today is that we don’t have to. There are literally dozens of places where you can educate yourself, on your own terms, at your own pace, about anything you want, for absolutely free. And all of these places can be accessed from your living room. I’m talking, of course, about the Internet. The Internet is the single greatest collection of knowledge and information from every corner of the world, and in this day and age, more and more websites are offering free classes for anyone interested. Let’s take a look at some of the best places to get a free education online:
iTunes U is an entire section of iTunes where colleges and universities form around the US can offer online courses to anyone with an iTunes account, completely free! And these aren’t small schools. We’re talking about courses from Oxford, Yale, Harvard, MIT, Washington College, and many more. Of course, no amount of iTunes U courses will get you a degree, but the knowledge you acquire will stay with you for the rest of your life.
The Personal MBA
From the website: “The Personal MBA is a project designed to help you educate yourself about advanced business concepts on your own terms.” This site takes a collaborative approach to education, encouraging you to read books from their list of the “99 best business books” and then discuss them within the community in order to educate yourself at your own pace, with the help of thousands of other people doing the exact same thing.
Lynda.com is a site that boasts over 40,000 video tutorials on a variety of technology-based jobs, from photography to audio and video, from 3D visual effects to accounting and online marketing. They fly experts from around the world to their studios in California to produce the highest quality, most informative tutorial videos available on the web. Membership to the site is $25 a month (a side benefit of this is that there is no advertising on the site), and is well worth it, but if you don’t want to pay, there are more than 5,000 of their videos available 100% free.
Free Educational Resources from Ed.gov
Another way to pick up an Ivy League education without racking up $100k in loans is through “open courses.” These are actual courses being taught at prestigious universities, available to you for free online. Just a few examples include:
Open Yale Courses
MIT Open Courses
University of Irvine Open Courses
UMass Boston OpenCourseWare
Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s OpenCourseWare
As you can see, there are many ways that you can further your education and increase your knowledge without paying anything at all. In these difficult economic times, every dollar counts, and being able to sit in on classes at Harvard or Yale for free is something that should be taken advantage of! The Internet truly is the information superhighway, and learning to harness that information and use it for your benefit is an important skill to master.
For even more links to free education on the internet, check out the 100 Best Websites for Free Adult Education.