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Formal Education

The Sloan Consortium can put you in touch with nearly 1000 online higher-education programs with its sortable Sloan-C Catalog.
The Internet has turned distance learning into a reality: Today, you can get all sorts of degrees and professional certificates through online courses. But not all online learning institutions are created equal. To avoid scams, start your search for Web-based higher education at The Sloan Consortium's Sloan-C Catalog. It's a list of degree and certificate programs offered by regionally accredited institutions who have become Consortium members (either because they've received grant support from the respected Alfred P. Sloan Foundation or through a peer-review process). You can search by discipline, type of degree or certificate, state, or institution name.

If you or someone you know wants to earn a GED (General Educational Development) credential (the equivalent of a high-school diploma), learn about the process from the organization that administers the GDE program, The American Council on Education. You can't take the test online, but dozens of sites offer to prep you--and many of them look pretty sleazy, so I'd stick with the ACE's links to practice tests and educational resources.

Watch professors from some of the nation's top universities lecture about their own specialty on this YouTube subsite.
If you don't care about getting a degree and simply want to broaden your horizons, head over to YouTube EDU, a very cool YouTube subsite devoted to videos of interviews, courses, and lectures from professors at top colleges and universities. Some are mostly course promos (such as Carnegie Mellon physics professor Barry Luokkala's description of his Science and Science Fiction course) but some have real content (such as this MIT course on creating compilers).

Learn a Foreign Language

It's easy to find sites that sell foreign-language instruction online. But here are some neat ones that don't charge for instruction and also offer audio clips:

On this site, you may learn to speak Chinese or try its calligraphy instructions.
Chinese (Mandarin): Chinese-Tools.com, the English-language version of a site run by a native French speaker who has lived in China for six years, is a fantastic resource. It not only has audio clips (crucial since Chinese depends on tone and inflection as well as simple pronunciation), but also calligraphy instruction.

French: About.com's French Language site provides lessons for beginners as well as interesting extras including sections on idiomatic expressions and typical Gallic gestures.

Italian: Oggi e Domani (which means "today and tomorrow" in Italian) focuses on conversations in its lesson-based approach.

Russian: I found a couple of sites that seem to be duking it out for supremacy in free online Russian-language instruction: Russian Lessons.net and Learning Russian.net. Of the two, Learning Russian.net looks slicker, but Russian Lessons.net appears to have more resources.

Spanish: 123TeachMe offers Spanish lessons for beginners, advanced students, and tourists (conversational Spanish).

Life Skills

Don't know how to make your bed like Grandma used to? WikiHow has step-by-step instructions.
Some things you just can't learn in traditional classrooms. Real Simple has tons of how-tos for around-the house skills--I like the Daily Quick-Cleaning Checklist, which promises to get your pad presentable in under half an hour. For the truly domestically challenged, WikiHow has a page on how to make your bed.

EmilyPost.com, the Web home of the Emily Post Institute, does get a little heavy-handed on selling books by the late doyenne of good manners and her descendants, but there are lots of free articles that provide advice on specific etiquette dilemmas.

And if you're looking to make dinner with whatever's in your refrigerator, simply enter the ingredients into the search fields of FoodNetwork.com, Epicurious or RecipeSource (formerly SOAR, or the Searchable Online Archive of Recipes). For really great how-to's (not to mention recipes and juried product and equipment ratings), consider investing $35 a year (less if you subscribe in print, too) in the online version of Cook's Illustrated, the ad-free Consumer Reports of cooking.

Need help with your finances? Motley Fool is one of the oldest and best sites to learn about investing and personal finance (and their discussion boards are great, too). If you're looking ahead to retirement, the Labor Department's Consumer Information on Retirement page answers a lot of questions on private pensions, 401ks, and the like.

Next: Sports and Games, Performing Arts

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