We live in an amazing time when there are a ton of accessible and valuable resources to learn almost anything imaginable.  In effect, we can begin or continue our education whenever it suits us and learn whatever we’re curious about.

Today, the continuing education industry is loosely divided between the degree-granting and non-degree granting markets.  Examples include:

  • Degree-granting institutions: This market is exploding as professionals, who already have an undergraduate degree, seek additional credentialing (either certificates or degrees) required for their jobs; to bolster pay; to improve the possibility for a promotion; and/or to change careers.  Although every major state university has a continuing education program, leaders include: University of Maryland, University of Washington, Harvard, MIT, and NYU.  (I’ve excluded the for-profits which offer undergrad and graduate degrees.)
  • Non-degree granting institutions: This market includes a slew of different offerings — everything from DVDs by mail (e.g. The Teaching Company); a university’s alumni programs; local lecture series (e.g. the 92nd Street Y), university open learning initiatives (e.g. MIT’s OpenCourseWare, Open Yale Courses, and Stanford on iTunes); and independent companies/websites.

In this last sub-segment, lately I can’t get enough of two websites: Khan Academy and Lynda.com.  Both are fantastic resources for all kinds of learners — whether you’re a student, professional, or individual who’s just curious about the world, these are incredible places to spend a lot or a little amount of time.

Interested in how the Hawaiian islands formed? How to understand the periodic table? The scale of the solar system?  The cause of heart disease and heart attacks?  The art of the northern Renaissance?  How the FICA tax works?  Newton’s laws of motion?  Khan Academy is the place for you.

Interested in understanding the foundations of photography composition?  How to use Microsoft Excel?  Eager for an intro to HTML?  Curious about all things related to design?  Lynda.com is the place for you.

I’ve summarized below the key features of each site as they’re a bit different, but equally valuable.

Content

Format

Price

Khan Academy Wide range of academic and practical topics (2,600 videos and counting).  Its strength is science and math — to date, only a few history topics are covered but I suspect it’ll do more in the future. Video, each topic session is about ~10 minutes long (range 6-25 minutes). Free (it’s a non-profit)
Lynda.com Wide range of professional courses (non-degree), including photography, design, web and interactive design, and business, etc. Video, each course is a few hours long (range 2-6 hours) $25/mo for unlimited use.  Add $12/mo if you want to download all course files.

The breadth of topics covered by each is remarkable — but more importantly, the courses/videos on each are clear and easy to digest.  I would be shocked if they didn’t clarify for you topics which had always somehow seemed baffling.

It’s good to have favorite things!

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