MOST people associate learning with formal education. And so, learning seems to end once we leave school, college or university. But must it be so? Certainly there are plenty of “how to” books on practically every topic you can think of. And of course, there’s the Internet which is a treasure trove of information.
There are many sources of online learning that you could pay for. A natural question would be why pay for such content when there’s YouTube and other free sources out there? The answer, in a word: Quality. Yes, there’s plenty of content on YouTube and some of it are very good but there are also a lot of amateurish and low-quality material there.
You could waste a lot of time trawling the web trying to find relevant content for you to learn more on a particular topic. Or you could go to a professional online learning site and be assured that there’s a measure of quality to be found there.
Not all professional learning sites require payment. Khan Academy (khanacademy.org), for example, is free of charge. Named after its founder Salman Khan, this online learning platform was created in 2006 as a supplementary resource for educators. Most of the topics are academic-based subjects, especially in the areas of math and science, although there are some modules for economics and humanities too. Its core video content is hosted on YouTube but the website includes useful tools such as progress tracking, practice exercises and other teaching tools.
If you are interested in the business, technological and creative side of things, Lynda.com (www.lynda.com) is the site to visit. As with Khan Academy, Lynda.com was named after its founder Lynda Weinman, a special effects animator and multimedia professor. It’s been around since early 2000s and its offerings are basically video tutorials taught by industry experts.
Unlike the Khan Academy, its focus is not on academic subjects but topics related to business, software, technology and creative skills. In 2004, the site offered about 100 courses. At the time of writing, there are 5,522 courses spread across 205,197 video tutorials.
There are two basic monthly subscription models: Basic (US$19.99; RM88.80) and Premium (US$29.99) with the difference being that the latter offers you project files and code practice, the ability to assess your progress and offline viewing. Both options give you unlimited access to all of its video contents online. Crucially, all the videos come with a transcript so you don’t have to take any notes. What’s said on the video is all there typed out for you.
It’s worth mentioning that although offline viewing is possible when you subscribe to its Premium package, this only works on mobile devices. You cannot view the videos offline if you’re using a laptop or desktop computer. So, if you have not-so-fast Internet access, you might find the video constantly buffering. Of course, you could install special software to download or capture the videos but there’s no easy, built-in way to download the videos onto your computer.
Lynda.com has good quality control and the videos are usually top-notch. The instructors are also very carefully selected so there is a strong sense of professionalism about this service. Where it is lacking is the breadth of the subjects offered. Most of its courses fall into the “professional development” category and there are no courses on things like cooking or sewing, etc.
For online modules that are more for personal development, you can go to Udemy (www.udemy.com), which has a massive catalogue of courses. It has already amassed 45,000 courses and is growing at a rate of a few hundred more courses added each month.
Udemy offers many of the types of courses that Lynda.com offers, in the areas of business, software, design, marketing and so on but it also offers other subjects such as lifestyle courses (arts and craft, food and beverage, beauty and makeup, home improvement, pet care and training, etc) and personal development courses (personal finance, parenting and relationships, happiness, etc).
Both quality and costs vary considerably. Every course comes with ratings and reviews by past students, so it’s a good idea to check those out before paying for anything. Unlike Lynda.com which is subscription-based (and which gives you full access to everything on its site), Udemy charges only for the specific course you want. Some courses are actually free but most have a fee attached to them. Prices range from US$10 to US$500. Once you pay for a course however, you have lifetime access (with Lynda.com, once you stop subscribing, you lose access).
Lifelong learning is something we should all engage in, especially in this day and age, where the options are great and readily accessible. You can learn about literally anything you want and pick up any skills you want with just a click of a mouse or a tap on your mobile phone screen. Unlike real life classes where you have to be there at a certain fixed time, with online learning you can view the videos at your own convenience.
Most of you would probably want to engage in lifelong learning for professional reasons — to keep yourself up to date with the latest developments in your field or even to pick up brand new skills to keep yourself marketable in the ever-competitive workforce. It’s certainly wise to invest in yourself.
But some of you might want to do this for personal development reasons too. Learning new skills — at whatever age — keeps you feeling young. If you’re someone who has already retired, there’s all the more reason to engage in online learning as you’ll need something new to do to keep your mind preoccupied and alert. So don’t hesitate. Now is as good a time as any to start learning again.
Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org