Today, there are more options than ever for lifelong learning, whether you’re looking to finish a degree or simply pursue a passion.
One of the positive outcomes of the challenges of the past few years is that many individuals are refocusing on what really matters to them. People are looking for more fulfillment or better opportunities, or to pursue a long-held passion, or maybe to learn things they didn’t have the time or resources to consider before.
Fortunately, learning something new no longer requires sitting in a formal classroom or enrolling as a full-time student. Today, there are myriad ways to practice new skills, explore ideas, and even finish a degree. Here are a few worth considering.
Note: Some of these educational programs are free, others are not, particularly if you hope to obtain a degree or a specific certification. See “Back to school: Education funding at every life stage” for considerations when planning for these costs.
Go (back) to college
Ready to finish that degree you started or get an advanced degree that could lead to new career opportunities? Many colleges have programs for working adults so that furthering your education is easier to fit in with your job and family obligations.
Some schools, particularly community colleges, offer tuition-free “promise” or “free college” programs for adults over a certain age.1 Others may give college credit for the knowledge you have acquired through work or military experience. To take advantage of “credit for prior learning,” you may have to take a standardized exam or present a portfolio that demonstrates your knowledge or body of work, according to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning,2 a national nonprofit organization.
Learn through volunteering
Volunteering can help you acquire a new skill or pursue a passion while also serving the community. You can learn construction skills on Habitat for Humanity projects, pick up gardening tips by working in a community or botanical garden, or gain research skills as a volunteer in a public library. Another option: Absorb another country’s culture and language while volunteering abroad.
Audit a course at a leading college or university
More than 900 colleges and universities offer the option of auditing their courses for free through online learning platforms like edX and Coursera, according to Class Central,3 a site that aggregates classes from different providers. Typically, you won’t get a grade or a credit if you audit a course, but you will be challenged and have a chance to learn from some of the country’s top instructors.
Enroll in a summer camp for grown-ups
Summer camp isn’t just for kids. A variety of adult camps, retreats, and workshops around the country teach skills like quilting, photography, painting, writing, horseback riding, culinary arts, craft brewing, outdoor survival, and more.
At Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, for example, you’ll find a long list of retreats and workshops such as creative writing, gardening, painting, and guitar. Other unique experiences include hands-on interactive space missions at the Adult Space Academy in Alabama or learning boatbuilding and woodworking at the WoodenBoat School in Maine.
Take a learning vacation
With an educational vacation, you explore a new part of the world and come back a better version of yourself. Whether you want to take photography lessons, try your hand at scuba diving, or hone your language skills, the possibilities are limitless. Not sure what you want to learn? Check out the hundreds of learning adventures at Road Scholar.
Explore more online resources
Along with Coursera and edX, mentioned above, there are a number of online resources offering specialized instruction. Here’s some information to help you find the right fit for what you hope to explore.
- LinkedIn Learning: Formerly Lynda.com, this site focuses on developing in-demand tech, professional, and creative skills designed to help you get a leg up in your career. The site offers a one-month free trial and then has a monthly subscription rate.
- Khan Academy: This free site focuses on academic learning, with courses in subjects ranging from biology and art history to statistics and economics. Here, you can learn from experts at your own pace.
- MasterClass: These video lectures are delivered by world-class experts and A-list celebrities. Take cinematography from acclaimed director Ron Howard, basketball from Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry, or campaign strategy from Karl Rove and David Axelrod. Several monthly subscription rates are available.
- Rosetta Stone and other sites and apps offer to help you learn another language. Rosetta Stone offers monthly and lifetime subscriptions.
- YouTube: Although YouTube is not curated like other online learning platforms, its free offerings cover how to crochet a sweater, how to troubleshoot a problem with your phone, and seemingly everything else.
- TED: This site offers free inspirational lectures on a wide range of topics, from how to spot a liar to lessons on happiness. Listen to one on your lunch break.
- Skillshare: This platform for artists and other creatives offers courses in drawing, painting, photography, creative writing, and more. Some courses are free, others by subscription.