It's been a rough year for a lot of us, including layoffs and pay cuts all around (including our household where our income was halved after a layoff). But for some, tough economic times can mean golden opportunities, especially in regards to beefing up your educational background, thanks to all the online resources from universities...
Online lectures/lessons in many ways is like working from home: there is nobody looking over your shoulder, but there's also nobody to help you along to keep you focused. It's all on you, ole chap/dear lass. But if you're the type of personality who can hone their attention, or if you just happen to want to dabble in subjects without worry of boosting your career, there's a world of knowledge out there that won't cost you a darn thing.
A great place to start is with iTunes U from Apple. They've partnered up with a who's who of esteemed universities like Oxford University, Yale, Carnegie Mellon University, Cambridge University, Stanford University, MIT and Texas A&M to offer over 200,000 educational audio and video files available to download onto your computer or take with you on your iPod/iPhone. We've just finished downloading Oxford's Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary: The Ring of Words to enjoy during our Friday night roadtrip out to Joshua Tree, bulking up on our nerd lore for the weekend. What's nice are the files are around the 30-45 minute length, making them easily digestible for in the tub, before bed, or at lunch enjoyment.
Another resource worth noting is Academic Earth, which also offers free video courses from the likes of distinguished halls of learning such as Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton and UCLA, with a wide array of subjects that range from Human-Computer Interaction to History to Entrepreneurship. A lecture description, course description and occasionally lecture transcript and reading assignment complement the video lecture you virtually sit in. And be absolutely sure to check out MIT professor Walter Lewin explain physics...you will not be disappointed. He even uses clips from Ray and Charles Eames The Power of Ten to explain the fundamentals of physics!
Open Culture is yet another site with a selection of free courses and lectures from some of the world's leading universities, including Stanford, Yale, Berkeley, MIT, Oxford, Harvard and others. The difference being this site seems to be an online aggregation source rather than the actual content provider. The inclusion of subjects like Urban Studies and Philosophy may be of interest to some like ourselves.
The World Lecture Hall is a similar lecture search database, hosted by the University of Texas at Austin. We were pleased we could find articles about parasites, alongside artificial intelligence, but the options are fewer.
Are any of these going to replace actually attending a university? Of course not. But if you're seeking a source of valuable knowledge for the sake of increasing the breadth of your expertise, or opening a new passage of ideas, online learning at home can be a great test run to see if you've got what it takes (most importantly the focus) to perhaps actually return to school. If anything, you'll know a little more than you did before, and that is never a bad thing.