If you’re looking to brush up your academic skills but can’t quite afford the time or money to go back to school, the following two sites offer intellectual stimulation at no cost, and you can access them at a moment’s notice.
Nonprofit site Khan Academy offers short videos– each about 10 minutes long on average–explaining topics in math, science, history, economics, and some test prep. Although its collection of humanities videos is slim, Khan Academy has an astounding number of math and science videos, explaining everything from basic arithmetic to “partial derivatives of vector valued functions.” All the courses are conducted with a human instructor’s voice over a blackboard-style screen, so you never actually see a person. For some people, this arrangement might work better as a learning strategy because you can just focus on the facts and figures in front of you. Many of the videos have supplemental problem sets that you can use to practice the things you just learned.
Although you can watch the Khan Academy videos without signing up, you can also create a profile to track the time you spend on the site, as well as the problem sets that you complete correctly. For extra motivation, Khan Academy awards badges to people who complete challenges. Some of the badges, which you receive after you complete the work for one or more courses–can take months or even years to attain.
Open Yale Courses, on the other hand, offers videos of lectures originally intended for undergrad Yale students. Every “course” is a collection of a semester’s worth of videos that each run about an hour long. You have access to the course syllabus, so you can supplement the information you watch in the lecture video with problem sets and outside reading. If you’re more of a humanities type, OYC offers courses on Milton, Roman architecture, and much more, but it also offers beginner courses in physics, biology, and astronomy.
The advantage of Open Yale Courses is that you get a much more comprehensive view of a single subject. The video podcasts are available for download from iTunes as well, and every so often (at Yale’s discretion) OYC will offer a batch of new, semester-long courses.
What’s great about both services is that they’re totally free and entirely streamed video, so if you don’t understand something, you can pause and rewind to hear the part of the lecture you find confusing.