A College Degree is Nice But Not Enough

Here are 6 super affordable resources for lifelong learning

photo courtesy of Viktor Janacek via pic jumbo

photo courtesy of Viktor Janacek, via pic jumbo

In a Gallup study conducted last year, 66% of adults with a Bachelor’s degree said that they learn and do something interesting every day—but so did 63% of people who had only earned a high school diploma, or less.

Although this is not encouraging news for colleges and universities (and their graduates), it does underscore the importance of lifelong learning, not so much as an ideal, but as a practical component of what Gallup calls the currency of a life that matters.

Curiosity. Love of learning. Continuing education. These are beautiful things available to every human being at every stage of life, regardless of past academic achievements, or the lack thereof.

This is the currency of the new economy and 4-year degrees aren’t required for admission.

Today, colleges and universities are not the only way to ensure that you are learning and doing something  interesting every day. There are countless ways that we can weave learning into the tapestry of our daily life.

In fact, there are so many options for learning and upgrading our skills and experience that the issue is (1) knowing which resources represent the best opportunities and (2) getting committed and intentional about using these incredible learning tools.

To make it a little easier, I submit for your consideration 6 amazing resources that I have no compunction in recommending. I have personal experience with most of them and I can happily report that they have served me very well. Best of all, they are incredibly affordable (if not FREE) and have the power to change your life.

Give them a try! Won’t you?

1. MIT Open Courseware

MIT is doing something remarkable to break down the traditional barriers to a higher education—They are opening all their courses to the entire world via the web!

“The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone,” said Dick K.P. Yup, Professor, MIT School of Engineering.

Currently there are over 2,000 classes offered by MIT in multiple languages. No matter what you want to learn, something in that curriculum will be of great interest to you. From humanities to hard core engineering, from Don Quijote to thermodynamics—it’s all in there! And many of the class materials include video lectures and other rich media resources which enhance the learning experience.

It’s an absolutely remarkable contribution to humanity. That’s all I can say about MIT’s generosity. Check it out now!

Cost: FREE (though please consider making a generous donation)

2. Carnegie Melon University: Open Learning Initiative

This is another great one! But whereas MIT is opening up the materials from all their courses, Carnegie Melon is creating a learning platform that gives you a much smaller selection of courses but provides feedback and a learning experience that is perhaps more immersive. They have some good language courses including French I & II, Spanish I, and Chinese I. As well as some excellent science and statistics and STEM classes.

It’s worth a look!

Cost: FREE

3. The Great Courses

If you’ve been paying attention, you know I love books and books on tape. I am a especially in love with Audible to which I’ve been listening for years. Well, here’s an added bonus to become a listener: The Great Courses.

These are the recorded lectures of some of the world’s finest professors and subject matter experts. There are over 400 courses covering a wide array of topics within the context of what you could call humanities. Some are short while others can be up to 40+ hours long. But the best part is that Audible allows you to download the course materials via PDF so you can read AND listen, and learn at your own pace.

Here’s a random but illustrative sampling of their great offerings:

  1. Building a Better Vocabulary by Professor Kevin Flanigan
  2. Critical Business Skills for Success by Professor Clinton O. Longenecker, PhD, Professor Eric Susan, MBA, Professor Michael A. Roberto, DBA, Professor Ryan Hamilton
  3. The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World by Professor Robert Garland
  4. Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition by Professor Richard Wolfs
  5. Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalist Movement by Professor Ashton Nichols
  6. Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation by by Professor Mark W. Muesse
  7. Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques by Professor James Hynes

Cost: $10 per month for Audible membership

4. Lynda.com

Big ideas that expand the dimensions of your mind are fantastic, but sometimes you need to acquire specific technical skills like learning to use a new piece of software or learning a new programming language. When you want to acquire specific skills or super-size existing technical abilities, Lynda.com is an excellent resource. For just $25 a month you get unlimited access to all the classes in Lynda’s library, which include over 4,000 video courses so far. You set the pace and learn at your own speed. It truly is a great resource.

Go take a look.

Cost: $25 per month

5. LiveMocha

As you know, business today is truly global and that’s why knowing multiple languages is a big career booster. In the U.S., however, only 20% of the population is bilingual! That’s why this is such a big opportunity for you, especially considering that bilingual people have been shown to earn up to $7,000 more per year than monolingual people.

The more languages you know, the more valuable you are to any company or organization. That’s why I think LiveMocha, a language learning platform and community, is a God-send.

LiveMocha offers 35 language courses for free including Spanish, French, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi and more. And the coolest part isn’t even the language lessons, it’s the experience of becoming a member of a community where you teach English to others and they in turn teach you the language of your choice. You can even submit audio recordings and receive pronunciation feedback from native speakers. Totally immersive.

Your passport to the world’s languages awaits.

Cost: FREE

6. Toastmasters

Here’s an oldie but a goodie. As part of just about any job in the new economy, you will at some point be called to lead a presentation, especially if you’re looking to get promoted and increase your income. The higher up you go, the more important your communication and presentation skills become. If you’re in sales or have started your own business, this is even more critical. Toastmasters International can give you the skills to be a more polished and confident speaker, presenter and leader.

Toastmasters offers a program called Competent Communication. It “contains 10 speech projects each focusing on a specific area, such as organizing your speech and using body language. An evaluator offers feedback on each of your speeches, helping you to improve. Earn a Competent Communicator award by completing all the speech projects in Competent Communication.”

It’s a fantastic program and organization, of which I am a proud member.

If you get weak-kneed at the mere thought of speaking in front of a live studio audience, relax! Toastmasters can help you overcome that fear by providing a friendly, encouraging and safe environment where you can practice these invaluable career skills and gain the confidence you need.

Go learn more about Toastmasters’ Education Program.

Cost: $56 membership renewed every 6 months

There you have it!

Six amazingly affordable learning resources that can enrich your life, no matter what level of education you may have previously attained. You don’t have to invest tens of thousands of dollars or drive to a crowded campus. You can use these tools from the comfort of your own home, or listen to them while you drive to work, or work out at the gym.

Just think what would happen if you invested just 30 minutes a day to using these resources?

I assure you that your life would be transformed and that you would truly be learning and doing something interesting every single day of your life.

What a gift that would be.

What a wondrous blessing.

It’s all there for you, my friend. Just waiting…

The only pre-requisite for admission is that you reconnect with that youthful sense of curiosity, exploration and a desire for learning and self-improvement that resides inside each of us.

In the new economy, opportunity is being democratized and the barriers to learning are systematically being dismantled.

Are you ready to take advantage of this spectacular opportunity?