Whether you’re looking to become more useful at your job or simply broaden your horizons, you can easily find free education online. The problem is that there’s so much material just a click or tap away that it can be rather daunting to pick out which ones are worth getting into. It also doesn’t help that not everything online can be trusted, so you want to make sure that you get proper guidance. In this blog post, I put forth a way to meld the methods of old and new to give oneself (virtually) free education.
This may seem like an odd post to see on this blog, given the topics I tend to write about. But one day, I found myself browsing philosophy curricula in college and university websites. I know it may seem rather weird to suddenly desire going back to school to study philosophy in my mid-30s, but I’ve been finding it quite interesting since the start of the pandemic. I binged videos on political philosophy during the lockdowns in search of answers to the crises throughout the world that seem to be happening at the start of the 2020s.
NOTE: This is for people who are in it to learn, either to diversify their skill set or simply to become more well-rounded human beings. If you want the diploma, go (back) to school.
Also, this is not a definitive guide, but merely one way this can be done. There may be other avenues open online that I may not be fully aware of. Reader discretion is advised.
Steps to Giving Yourself Free College
The steps are as follows:
- Step 0: Decide on What You Wish to Study
- Step 1: Search for Program Syllabus
- Step 2: Compile (Free) Learning Material
- Step 3: Make a First Leisurely Pass to Determine Your Desire to Learn
- Step 4: Get Serious with Your Second Pass
- Step 5: Finish the Whole Program (Within a Month or So)
There are also two optional steps after that if you wish to go further:
- Step 6: Enroll in Actual College and Get That Degree for Real
- Step 7: Stay Updated
I’m aware that it’s looking like all the throwaway content you find on the internet about this very topic. The best thing I can do is to provide the simplest possible steps towards giving oneself college-level education.
While you can just go with the shotgun method and devour learning material wherever and whenever you can, that’s not the most efficient way to do it.
Of course, the most important step here is to have the motivation and discipline to see through this. This is not a guide to procrastination and data hoarding.
Step 0: Decide on What You Wish to Study
I put this here as step zero since you should already know what you want to get yourself into. If you’re still not sure, then proceed to step one and browse around.
You can look around online to come up with whatever you’re interested in. A good trick is to pull up your YouTube watch history and find patterns in your watching habits. You may find that you’ve been watching videos on a specific field of interest.
For most people, it won’t be a eureka moment that will answer your life’s questions right away.
Step 1: Search for Program Syllabus
Search on Google the college degree you’re interested in and look at program syllabuses you can find on college and university websites. If you have a particular school in mind, that’s even better since you may want to follow the specific curriculum of a school you know of and respect.
Basically, it’s like looking at the table of contents in a book. You get to know beforehand what you’re getting yourself into and perhaps even find extra learning material for parts you’re especially interested in or stumped by.
Step 2: Compile (Free) Learning Material
The first destination has to be YouTube. There are plenty of educational videos that may fit the bill. Just make sure that the videos you compile are from good sources. Channels like Crash Course are known to make videos specifically for this purpose.
If you can get a syllabus for each course in the curriculum, that’s even better as it should give you a list of topics you should find material for. If you need a source with more focus, that’s what services like Khan Academy are for. The material there is made specifically for self-education.
Then there’s the digital pirate way of doing things, which is downloading torrents. Just make sure that when you download torrents of courses and tutorials, you actually consume the material and not just have it sit in your hard drive. Hoarding tutorials is a waste of both your time and precious disk space. Take it from a chronic procrastinator and consider yourself warned.
There are those who see that as full-on piracy, making it unethical and underhanded. You may be more comfortable in subscribing to online learning platforms. Just know that each website has its own specialty of sorts. For instance, The Great Courses Plus is great for academic pursuits, while Skillshare is more for multimedia skills, Pluralsight is more for programming and software development, and so on.
But if you’re not above torrenting your learning material, then you’ll find an abundance of material. Trackers these days tend to have a separate tutorials category that makes it convenient for browsing whatever course you may want to download. You’d want to browse that anyway, even if you’re not looking to do some dedicated studying.
Step 3: Make a First Leisurely Pass to Determine Your Desire to Learn
Don’t get your pen and paper to jot notes down right away. Don’t take it too seriously the first time around. School comes from the Greek word “schole,” which means leisure. They learned for fun back in the day, and you should do so nowadays.
Giving it a quick first pass will allow you to determine whether you really want to learn that material. A lot of times, you may be interested in something, but you then fall off once you get a sense of what it really is and how much it may demand from you.
It’s not to say that you should just give it a quick glance and be done with it. Go for the middle ground between a quick skim and a thorough study. Give it some attention and get a feel for whether it actually does seem interesting to you or not.
If you’re already falling asleep or getting bored on your first pass, it may not be for you. But to be sure about that, leave it alone for a few days, then get back to it and give it another chance.
Step 4: Get Serious with Your Second Pass
Once you’re sure that it’s something you’re willing to go through with, then it’s time to get serious. Since you gave it a first pass, you already know what you’re getting yourself into. By knowing the curriculum beforehand, it’ll make it less likely for you to get lost in the middle.
Depending on what you’re studying, you should have a system that will help you retain that knowledge. For most academic subjects, writing down notes is not just a way to record and summarize the material for yourself, but the act of jotting notes is in itself a way for your brain to record and absorb the material being consumed at the moment.
As for trades and most other fields of interest that require doing things, the best way to learn is to work on a project. Many (good) online courses related to fields like programming, multimedia arts, and so on tend to have project-based course outlines that let you follow along and try things out for yourself.
You can then embark on your own personal project to apply what you’ve learned. That’s exactly how this very website came to be a decade ago as of this writing. I decided to get better at web design and learn how to create themes for WordPress, so I followed an online course on the subject and created the first version of this website.
Of course, if you’re studying an entire program, it’s going to encompass more than just doing arts and crafts like doing origami or making WordPress themes. The disadvantage of studying something yourself is that there’s no institution to push you with exams and thesis.
You can introduce stakes into your learning on your own by looking for freelance work or embarking in personal projects. Having time and financial pressure can help motivate your process, thus letting you get better at that thing more effectively.
Step 5: Finish the Whole Program (Within a Month or So)
I’m not saying you should go about it in such a blitz. If you’re willing to take your time and get through the whole thing within a year or even four years like you’re actually in school, then that’s good since your brain will be able to properly absorb all that material.
However, most people’s motivation tends to wane over time, so you want to make the most of that by getting through it as quickly and efficiently as possible. As long as you get the gist of the whole thing, you can then keep learning over time while plying that trade.
Whichever way you go about it, the most important thing is to finish the program. Finishing what you started is one of the most important factors to success in just about anything under the sun. Having the discipline and persistence to get through something, no matter how difficult or messy it can be, is what truly makes a difference.
(Optional) Step 6: Enroll in Actual College and Get That Degree for Real
Let’s say you’re a 45-year-old who’s really interested in a particular field of knowledge. You keep digging into it and want to take things further and you have money to throw into this pursuit. You might as well go back to school and get a degree in that thing, then perhaps get a masters and even a doctorate if you’re motivated enough.
Fuck everyone who dissuades you from it. You’re a grown-ass adult who can make your own decisions, and it’s a valiant decision to go back to school as an adult to pursue higher learning. If you have the time and space in your life to make room for this, go for it by all means.
Also, fuck everyone whose first question upon knowing of your decision is along the lines of how much money you stand to earn from it. Such people take the fun out of learning and it’s best to not talk about it with them. Most of such people tend to not be that good anyway.
(Optional) Step 7: Stay Updated
That’s just how it is when you decide to study just about any field. New information and methodologies are being innovated all the time, even in fields that seem static. If it’s not new technology that changes it, then it’s culture and human behavior that can. Nothing in this world stays stagnant except an unmoving mind.
Yes, this is just a long-ass blog post about looking up syllabuses on college and university website and using them as guides for learning materials in a self-guided way of giving oneself something close to higher education. Hey, it’s still a pretty good idea, although it takes a good bit of discipline to actually go through.
Frankly, I only published this blog post to have more evergreen content. It’s not to say I don’t believe in what I wrote here, but I recognize how seemingly out of place this is in the midst of all the trivial gaming and entertainment content that populate this blog.
But that’s exactly why I’m writing posts like this now as I want this website that I pay hosting for every year to be more useful. As I add more helpful content here, I hope to turn the blog around from just a vanity blog that only gets sporadically updated to a relevant online resource that people actually find interesting and even helpful.
More specifically to this blog post, I’ve been encountering people who haven’t had either good fortune or ample motivation to receive higher education, which has then become a source of regret in their lives. There are those who think that even with self-study, it won’t matter as long as there’s no accreditation or even documentation to show for it. Those people are hopeless.
As for those who do see value in the learning process on its own, despite external factors, then I hope reading this post has at least motivated you to get into studying whatever you’ve been meaning to learn since forever. In the end, self-learning is an act of self-love.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.
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