As a child, one of the things that excited me most about growing up was that I’d finally be old enough to take the hundreds of classes offered by CPCC, our local community college. I’d spend hours dog-earring the pages of the catalogue: Still life drawing, Photography, Italian, Poetry of the Eastern World… I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why all the grownups I knew sat around watching Matlock when they could be learning about the history of opera or how to build a house out of hay bales.
Fast forward thirty years and I get it.
But still, I’m curious, and occasionally I have the energy to learn something new. My criteria have changed since childhood: I’m broke, so it’s got to be free. I’m exhausted, so it’s got to be fun. I have five kids and two jobs, so it’s got to be flexible. I’m a snob, so it’s got to be good.
Here are my go-tos:
Coursera.org: “Take the world’s best courses online.”
This is no joke. This site leads to hundreds of courses on hundreds of topics from hundreds of leading universities. You can take a course on anything from Modern Music to the History of Humankind from colleges like Berklee School of Music and Harvard. It’s free. It’s fabulous. If you can’t finish you don’t even get an F. What’s not to like?
International Writing Program from Iowa Writer’s Workshop: “1400 writers from more than 130 countries”
This one is a no-brainer for writers. The Iowa Writer’s Workshop is perhaps the most prestigious MFA writing program in the country, and here they are offering free courses on “How Writers Write Fiction” and “How Writers Write Poetry,” as well as additional offerings. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I originally heard about this from my bridesmaid, Susannah Shive, the Distance Learning Coordinator there at IWP. I took the fiction course and I was blown away by the quality of the course. It far outpaced other $300+ online classes I’ve taken. The classes are offered just a few times a year, but you cannot lose if you catch one.
edX.org: “Take great online courses from the world’s best universities.”
Similar to Coursera, edX offers hundreds of classes from around the world, all for free. There are TONS of computer programming classes available here.
Brainpickings.org: “A one-woman labor of love — a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why.”
Brainpickings is not an online course. Rather, it is a highly curated website that delves into all kinds of topics from Margaret Mead to Nietzsche. It’s written by Maria Popova, who has written for Wired UK, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, among others, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow. It’s fascinating, and will do for you what hours of NPR does – open you to all kinds of topics you never knew existed. Read just one post, and I guarantee you’ll feel smarter.
It’s easy to fall into the evening habit of red wine and zombie shows, especially when you’ve spent your day refereeing toddler fights and driving umpteen kids to activities all over town. But, if you start to feel like your intellectual acuity is being used for nothing more than figuring out the per person price for dinner, it might be time to turn off the TV and invest a little time at the mental gym. With no admission tests, no commitments, and NO MONEY, you’ve got nothing to lose here, except, of course, any excuse for ever being bored again.