Continue Your Life’s Education With Free Online Classes

Have extra time at home? Want to keep your brain busy with new things to think about? Consider doing a little remote learning of your own. After all, Benjamin Franklin famously set aside and hour or two each day to…

Have extra time at home? Want to keep your brain busy with new things to think about? Consider doing a little remote learning of your own. After all, Benjamin Franklin famously set aside and hour or two each day to study, reflect and experiment so he could fill in the gaps in his own education, and he went on to several successful careers.

Hundreds of major colleges and universities offer online courses that anyone with an internet connection can take. While you won’t get academic credits for taking free classes, you expand your knowledge — and can even show a little solidarity with your children as they head back to school themselves. Here’s a guide to getting started.Make a PlanFirst, ask yourself what subject you want to study and how it might benefit you. Are you pondering a career shift? Looking to pick up new skills? Or do you just need a distraction in unsettled times? Make a note of your ultimate goal to help focus your search, as classes are available across a wide range of academic disciplines.Fancy an Ivy League education? Among others, you can sign up for “Constitutional Interpretation” from Princeton, a course in African-American history from Yale or an introductory computer-science class from Harvard.Hundreds of colleges and universities have made digitial versions of popular courses available online for anyone to study.Studying online means you can attend from anywhere, so you can even go global, like a project-management class at Britain’s Open University or “The Science of Beer” from Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands.Find a ClassMany institutions offer lessons in the form of massive open online courses, also known as MOOCs. These mostly take place in your web browser and include recorded video lectures, readings, study questions and discussion forums.When considering a massive open online course, you can check out the syllabus, instructor and other information.Some schools, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are generous. M.I.T. freely offers the content from most of its on-campus courses on its OpenCourseWare site.To see what’s available from multiple schools, try Class Central, a search engine for online courses. You can also browse the Open Culture site, which lists more than 1,500 courses from accredited institutions and hosted on educational platforms like Coursera, edX and FutureLearn; these platforms have many subscription or fee-based classes as well.If you want to go beyond free access to the class materials, FutureLearn and other platforms that host online courses typically offer graded lessons and completion certificates for a fee.Click the enroll button to sign up. If you’re on the “free” plan, you’re essentially auditing the course. However, if you pay a fee, you can often get graded assignments — or a “certificate of completion” that typically starts around $50.Other Sources for CoursesIf you’re not quite ready for a college-level class or wish to supplement your child’s learning, the nonprofit Khan Academy hosts lessons designed for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Here, you can find math, science, economics and humanities classes, as well as inventive computer courses like “Pixar in a Box,” an overview of the digital-animation process.The “Pixar in a Box” module from the Khan Academy explains the science and technology behind digital animation to students of all ages.Apple’s iTunes U service hosts free audio and video lectures from schools around the world, although the company has announced plans to discontinue the platform at the end of 2021.Get Ready for SchoolAn hour a day of study is a sensible goal, but when considering a course, check its specific duration and time commitments so you can plan more precisely and slot the space into your calendar. Some classes are self-paced, while others have a more traditional meeting structure that can last for nine weeks.Before signing up, check the estimated time requirements to complete a course and then build that time into your schedule.Find a place to do your homework and keep your school materials. Depending on the course, you may also need certain books, software or other materials. Even if you’re watching recorded lectures, taking notes may help you better retain the information, so ponder a cheap notebook or a note-taking app.Classes for Busy PeopleToo busy to commit to a lengthy course? The Coursera site has a list of courses you can complete in a day; all are free until the end of the year.Museum and library websites, like the Museum of the City of New York, can offer recorded lectures and other educational materials for students of all ages.And consider the lectures and webinars offered by museums and libraries. The Museum Computer Network site has a lengthy list of online learning resources from major institutions. Browsing your favorite museum sites directly for educational content can also yield results.Life LessonsWant to know how to change the oil in a late-model Honda Civic, perform basic toilet repairs or mend torn clothes? Instructional videos posted to YouTube provide a hands-on education on the practical matters of daily living. Many popular do-it-yourself sites 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.The Soul Food Cooking channel is one of many sources on YouTube for instructional videos.Credit…Soul Food CookingAnd if you’d like to upgrade your home-cooking repertoire, fire up a recipe search on the site. YouTube chefs will guide you through making red velvet waffles and chicken or even the infamous Twinkie wiener sandwich, because with school in session, the fall comfort-food season is right around the corner.