Be the Smartest Person In the Room Without Going to College

Before I lead you to a wrong impression, I want to publicly state I believe education is extremely important.  In fact, I will even go so far as saying education is one of the most worthy of pursuits; however, I think we tend to confuse college with education.

The purpose of this post is not to argue for or against the value of a college degree, and I will say that I believe everyone should consider attending the best college they can afford without borrowing money.  My real purpose is to share some excellent ways to get a college level education without paying tuition or moving into a dormitory.

In 21st century America, if you have a laptop, tablet, or cell phone and you are uneducated, it is because you have made the choice to be ignorant.  There are dozens of ways to get a college level education these days, and many of them are low-cost and even free.  For those who are interested in lifelong learning, here are some venues I use and enjoy on a fairly regular basis:

TGC1. The Great Courses  Produced and distributed by The Teaching Company, the Great Courses are college-level audio and video courses available on CD, DVD, MP3 and MPEG-4 download formats.  These courses are taught by top-notch, award-winning professors selected for their teaching excellence.  The courses range from 6 to 84 lectures, and there are nearly 500 courses offered covering many different subjects: the arts, philosophy, business, history science and mathematics, religion, and better living.  While the courses at first glance are rather pricey ($50-$500), every course goes on sale at least 70% off at least once a year.  I have never paid full listed price for any course, and I have purchased a half a dozen or so for $9.95

The courses are outstanding, and if I have an addiction, it is the Great Courses.  I own a couple of dozen of them and I own some in every format.  While the streaming courses are the least expensive, they are also the most irritating.  Occasionally a bad wi-fi connection affects the streaming quality.  Not a big issue when I am watching them by myself on my Nexus 7 tablet, but rather frustrating when I watch them with Linda on the big flat screen.  Each course comes with an informative class outline with lecture notes and bibliographies.  For those who are dedicated life long learners, I encourage you to check out The Great Courses.  It is even fun to get your friends interested and  swap courses back and forth.

iTunesU2. iTunes U  Apple has teamed up with dozens of English-speaking colleges and universities offering hundreds of college and graduate level course on just about every subject imaginable.  While the quality isn’t quite as good as the Great Courses, the courses offered on iTunes U are free.  I have taken three courses online via  iTunes U: a finance course and a game theory course from Harvard, and  a Greek history course from Yale.  While the material was good, the professors were not as engaging or interesting as with the Great Courses; then again, the courses were 100% free.

Because I am not a big Apple fan, I am frustrated I can’t get access to iTunes U on my Nexus, but I have watched courses successfully on my HP laptop.  For those of you who are Apple aficionados, there is a mobile app available that makes downloading iTunes U courses really easy.  Check them out; if you don’t like the feel of a course, the only thing you spent was your time.

KA3. Khan Academy  Khan Academy is a not-for-profit whose goal is to improve education by providing world-class education for anyone anywhere.  Originally designed to teach math, science, and computers, Khan Academy has branched out into economics, finance, history, and American civics. Khan Academy courses are also free.

Khan Academy’s format is a little different from the other two I mentioned.  Rather than teach a semester course with multiple lectures like most schools, Khan Academy offers 5-7 minutes of instruction on a specific concept or topic, with the goal for the student to master the concept or topic before moving on to the next video.  The methodology is brilliant, allowing the student to work at their own pace, ensuring that essential material is not only presented to the student but also mastered.  Khan Academy is geared for all ages, from elementary school through college.  For those who are interested in learning the nuts and bolts of a particular subject, Khan Academy is excellent.  I took a banking course, and it was very well done.  The Khan Academy’s format lends itself to learning concepts rather than entertaining the student; therefore, you might want to use the Great Courses and iTunes U for learning the humanities and Khan Academy for math and science; or, you might want to use the Khan Academy to supplement what you are learning via the online lectures of other venues.

It should be noted, none of the above listed programs offer college credit; therefore, proving you have taken and mastered these courses can be a challenge.  (For self-employed folks like me, this isn’t a requirement).  If proving your education is necessary,  you will need to keep accurate records of your work. When I homeschooled my college-aged son, I kept records of the classes he completed via the Great Courses and iTunes U, as well as the homework assignments I had him complete.  I can’t speak for all employers, but I personally would consider a prospective employee who could prove they educated themselves via the three venues I listed.  Anyone who has the wherewithal to organize their own education, the discipline to complete the courses and record their coursework, and show proof of their work in  a second job interview, would probably get a few extra brownie points from me over the candidate who went to college conventionally.  (However, I tend to be an outlier, so proceed with caution if you choose to work for a conventional boss).

In addition to becoming more knowledgeable, the online courses I mentioned above have enriched my life.  From philosophy to physics, and economics to religious studies, I have been able to get a world-class education without ever needing to fill out a college application or find parking on campus. I encourage everyone to take advantage of the inexpensive educational opportunities that are available online to anyone.

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