1. The Education Gradebook

Online learning sites are informative, fun and, best of all, free

Published May 7, 2012

"All men by nature desire knowledge." Aristotle

A vast wealth of online learning tools is available to anyone — and it's free.

Educating yourself online may not give you that expensive sheepskin, but it will give you knowledge and won't hurt your pocketbook.

Here's how to get started.

You might begin your online search with the Khan Academy, which has a particularly interesting story. Its founder, Salman (Sal) Khan, an educator with an MBA from Harvard Business School and three degrees from MIT, began remotely tutoring his cousin Nadia in math and later extended his tutoring to other family members and friends.

To keep up with the demand for his tutoring and to allow his enthusiasts to be engaged on their own time, he started recording videos and posting them on YouTube.

Today, the Khan Academy offers more than 3,000 online video lectures in the subjects of math (K-12), history, medicine, biology, astronomy and many others. And he's constantly adding to this collection.

He'll even help you study for your SAT. Following the "Official SAT Study Guide," Khan works through every problem with you. Some school districts have even implemented Khan Academy into their classrooms as a teaching tool.

Khan's long-term goal is to create "the world's first free, world-class virtual school where anyone can learn anything."

The nonprofit Khan Academy has received grants from Google and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as donations from supporters of the program.

The site has a few options. You can "Watch a Video" or "Take a Challenge." When you're ready to take a challenge, you select from a "Knowledge Map." On the math page, for example, you can go from simple addition and subtraction to calculus, each one building upon your success as you progress through the map. Or you can jump to a specific subject if you just need a refresher on that skill. If you answer correctly in the challenge, you quickly advance to the next question. If you're wrong, you're offered a hint or a step-by-step video showing you exactly how to solve the problem.

Be warned, though: It's addictive. After my husband first told me about this site, I tried it for myself. I decided I would test my math skills, praying that some things I learned in school had stuck. I surprised myself, actually. My one regret is not having had this tool back when I struggled with algebra and even the mention of a word problem brought me to tears.

So whether you're a student looking for tutoring in most any subject or someone like me wanting to bring back some rusty knowledge from an earlier time, it's worth a look.

You can also see Salman Khan in a TED video. TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design, is another cool site. It started out as a conference to unite people from these three worlds.

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Go to to be inspired, surprised, educated and entertained from more than 1,000 TEDTalks.

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For a higher level of learning, check out Academic Earth at It's an online collection of college level courses containing full-length video lectures by professors from distinguished schools including Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT and Yale.

You might select a biology lecture by MIT professor Robert A. Weinberg or a lecture on Roman architecture by professor Diana E. E. Kleiner of Yale. You'll be watching and listening to the exact same lecture that you would if you were sitting in their classroom.

Viewing these lectures online will not give you an accredited education, but it may help you select an area of study if you are undecided and college bound. Or maybe you just have always wanted to learn more on a subject that interests you.

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And for the more hands-on minded who like the challenge of a do-it-yourself project, there's a website called the Instructables. This site shows you how to make everything from an apple frangipane tart to a Golden Zeppelini vehicle.

All the websites I've mentioned have one thing in common: They are a free way to increase your knowledge. And, after all, isn't it knowledge that we're all after anyway?

A wise but unidentified author once wrote: "Formal education will make you a living. … Self-education will make you a fortune."


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