8 Ways to Learn Something New for Free
Now, I imagine a few of you know this already but I am a huge advocate of lifelong learning and finding new ways to challenge yourself. Classes are amazing but there is something to be said about spending a Sunday afternoon reading about the Russian Revolution or priding yourself on working on a language you love every morning without any deadline but those you set for yourself. For those of us in the university grind, the lack of anxiety is a great reminder of why you may have fallen in love with your favorite subjects in the first place. And let's be real, we've all had that professor that we simply don't click with and having an arsenal of ways to learn topics outside of lecture can be a great workaround for those instances. That being said, it can be hard to find reliable sources of information, especially if you don't know where to look. To help you get started, these are a few of my favorite ways of learning new things as a student on the go.
Memrise: One option to consider is downloading the popular app, Memrise. This app has a great mobile interface as well as a desktop option available. Memrise started as an app much like Quizlet, with flashcards for students, but has expanded more into the course market. Memrise offers courses ranging from Literature to Music Vocabulary to Languages and each is taught through mini-lessons and flashcard based responses. The app is interactive right from the get-go which is an obvious plus. I highly recommend it for getting some base-knowledge on a topic or as a review of previous topics that you want to refresh. This latter case is really helpful when it comes to courses that you are taking a level up on, such as Anatomy & Physiology II, even though it has been a bit since your last course on the topic.
Audiobooks: It’s no secret how busy many of us find ourselves with relatively menial tasks. Driving to work, washing the dishes, walking from class to class; all tasks that don’t take much focus to accomplish but nevertheless take up precious time. Audiobooks are one great option for taking advantage of these little moments. I listened to (and loved) The Gene: The Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee as I was taking Foundations of Biology so I could better think of the real-world applications for what I was learning. I listened to Being Mortal by Atul Gawande while working at a nursing home in order to better work with the elderly. Each book allowed me to more intimately interact with the world around me while also making numerous simple moments of my day far more enjoyable (I now don’t even mind doing my roommate’s dishes since it gives me a chance to focus on whatever book I’ve dived into).
Podcasts: Everything I explained above also applies to podcasts, if not more so. Podcasts are a great way to immerse yourself in any number of topics, some even more niche than you could find a published audiobook in. Of course, you can also sit down and simply enjoy either of these options but, unlike books, you are allowed a flexibility that makes learning that much easier.
Duolingo and Mango: These two apps are specific to language learning but arguably some of the best free software out there. Duolingo has long led in the language learning industry and this is likely not the first time you heard of it, boasting over 100 million downloads from the app store. Duolingo makes a little bit of learning each day incredibly achievable for any user. Mango focuses on the speaking aspect of language and is available for free through many libraries. The computer interface for Mango is both fun and challenging. I also recommend it for those wanting to focus on learning common phrases and applying their language skill early as the focus is a lot more on common phrases and terms rather than the all-encompassing approach of Duolingo.
Coursera: Coursera goes back to the more general learning format as it provides courses from numerous, top-line universities that you can take. Both a great PC and Mobile interface, Coursera takes learning far beyond the classroom. I have taken courses in topics from graphic design to The Theory of Relativity and all have been marvelous. The videos, articles, assignments, and even optional deadlines combine to make an ideal learning opportunity in nearly any course you could desire without the pressure of a looming GPA.
iTunes-U: Similar to Coursera, iTunes-U offers courses from elite universities for free that can be downloaded and listened to anywhere. I prefer the Coursera interface, however, iTunes-U often has more upper-level courses for things you may already have experience with. I recommend their Stanford courses, particularly in medicine and “The Stanford Storytelling Project” from a few years back as both great courses I’ve enjoyed in the past.
Audit a course at a local community college: Now I don’t have personal experience with this, as I’ve always been a student so simply taking the course was a better option for me, but I have heard great thing about auditing both online and from auditors in my own courses. This seems most effective in history lectures but honestly, any topic could be a fascinating one to audit. There are many resources online that have free colleges to audit from as well as information on how to get started that I highly recommend taking a look at to see if the opportunity is right for you.
DIY: Come up with a list of a couple things you would like to be better at - European trivia, marketing, geography, perfect pitch - and then run a search in the app store for that topic. Often, as with each of the above, there is an app that specifically focuses on improving that skill. Make a goal for opening that app and practicing each morning for 5 minutes. I know this one is a bit more ambiguous but there is something to be said about being flexible and seeking new formats of learning based on your specific needs.
Now begin your exploring, take a chance on a new hobby, and challenge yourself in entirely new ways. Oh, and don't forget that learning doesn't have to mean 8 am lectures and test anxiety. Learning is just another way of growing into the fascinating person you have always hoped to be.