Educate thyself – without paying a cent

Alex Walls argues in favour of educating oneself – for free.

alex walls idealogI’m taking an online course in Electromagnetism and it’s Not Going Well. The type of Not Going Well that warrants the capital letters and involves yelling incoherent sentences at computers and doing the ‘V for Victory’ sign at your screen in front of bemused colleagues and wearily resigned flatmates.

There are loads of university-level courses free online from respectable outfits such as MIT and Harvard (and loads of PhDs available online from respectable-looking outfits for low, low prices …) ranging from physics (including #$%@* electromagnetism) through to law.

A friend is currently indulging in some digital signal processing, as you do, and another is considering taking a geography course. My course’s forum is filled with comments from around the world, including many enthusiastic capital letters and exclamation marks. There’s one guy who got banned for writing ‘Promote space travel!’ over and over with no comprehensible purpose (except, obviously, to promote space travel in some kind of low-budget NASA attempt to get funding).

These courses generally involve online videos of lectures from a few years ago, complete with footage of bored students doodling and the occasional entrance of the student union invariably dressed as farmyard animals, with a dedicated team of tutors to help with your homework questions.

It’s a fantastic idea and one I wish they’d come up with a long time ago or at least that I wish I’d known about before I learned about television, pubs and listening to strangers on the train. (What? I said drawing. Drawing on the train. Yeah.)

Knowledge is something the internet almost stands for, particularly random knowledge with no foreseeable use in your everyday life, and it seems we’ve only been waiting for tech to catch up enough to offer it up on a silver plate, ready to be wolfed down by anyone and everyone.

Now, knowledge of the quantum mechanics and you’d-have-to-never-sleep-in-the-manner-of-a-crack-addict-in-order-to-put-one-over-me variety may not be my forte, unless by ‘forte’ you mean ‘something which you are craptastic at’, but it’s mind boggling that I can learn about it nonetheless, for free, with the bonus of mainly-patient tutors to help me (more on that another time).

So what about you? Have you freed your mind online in any way, or know of some budget education options, like buying a secondhand book on home surgery and giving that nose job the old college try?

Alex Walls is a New Zealand journalist currently exploring Britain's climate (rain, cold, rain, more cold) and the art of terrible travel selfies. Follow her @lxwalls.