Nowadays you can learn just about anything you want without setting foot in a classroom. All you need is a computer, an internet connection, and curiosity. The internet has paved the way for an educational gold mine of free online courses for seniors.
Noncommercial learning opportunities are practically limitless and include free online college courses for seniors from Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale. Websites such as Senior Planet and Road Scholar offer classes designed to appeal to older adults, while online course aggregators such as Class Central, Coursera and FutureLearn gather and review online courses catering to a range of interests, from the prosaic to the esoteric.
Explore the Possibilities
These massive open online courses, or MOOCs, range from very short courses of a few hours to several modules spread over several weeks. Take FutureLearn as an example. You could pick up basic Dutch in a short three-week course, spending just three hours a week with instructors from a renowned Dutch university. You could explore and solve cryptarithms, symbologies and secret codes. Pick up basic first aid. Or you could spend just two hours learning how to live longer with healthy aging secrets of the Japanese, and then spend a lifetime applying them to your own habits.
Class Central is another website that compiles and reviews free online courses. Subjects include science, art and design, psychology, health, law, web development, and cybersecurity. You can use their ranking menus to see the most highly rated classes they offer and learn about the instructors before you sign up. Among their “Best of All Time” classes of interest to older adults are “Preventing Dementia” from the University of Tasmania, and “A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment” from the Indian School of Business.
Just a Taste
Trying out a MOOC gives you the chance to see if you’d like to pursue the subject further. A free course in mathematics may lead to paid classes that build on a degree you’re dusting off, or to a second career in a subject that didn’t exist when you were in school — such as coding. We’ve put together a (very small) sampling of some top-rated courses to consider for personal enrichment:
Share Your Experiences
Give friends and family members a peek into your life and experiences. Document your musings and photos in a blog, or share your know-how on a topic of interest. Skillshare offers a free course, “How to Make a WordPress Blog for Beginners.” It teaches you how to create a blog from the ground up. While it helps to have some basic knowledge, it’s still informative and well taught. You can sign up and complete it at any time.
Build an App
Have an idea for an iPhone app that will make life easier or more entertaining? Masako Wakamiya became a coder when she was 82, developing a memory game for senior citizens. Udacity offers a free course, “How to Make an iOS App.” Follow in Masako’s footsteps and learn how to do it yourself, from drawing board to app store.
Start a Business
If you have an entrepreneurial mindset and a good idea for a business, the class “Developing Ideas for New Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship” from the University of Maryland could be a helpful starting point. It gets high ratings for how it’s structured and presented, and allows access to all lectures and course materials for free.
If your idea of a good poem is, “Roses are red, violets are blue …”, or you’re someone who’s moved by the creative possibilities of language, then it could be time to take stock of our nation’s wordsmiths. “Modern and Contemporary American Poetry” or “ModPo” as it’s affectionately known, is offered by the University of Pennsylvania, and is a fast-paced and interactive course consistently rated five stars.
Build Financial Savvy
“Financial Markets” presented by instructors from Yale University will teach you the real-world functioning of securities, insurance and banking. You’ll understand how our institutions create opportunities to manage risk and foster enterprise for the good of society.
Understand Artificial Intelligence
The devices and technologies around us are changing constantly. “Intro to Artificial Intelligence” is a fascinating course that teaches the basics of artificial intelligence (also known as “AI”) and introduces you to the huge implications it has for human capability. Taught by industry professionals, this self-paced course features rich learning content and interactive quizzes and will cover how artificial intelligence is applied to robotics, language processing and information retrieval.
Go to the Head of the Class
Here are some tools and tips for a smooth learning experience. You’ll need:
- A high-speed internet connection. Dial-up is too slow for the large audio and video files that you will view or download during an online course.
- A system for organizing and saving downloaded files. They can take up a lot of your computer’s memory. Save them elsewhere, and access them whenever you want, with services such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
- An understanding of the software you might need to play audio or video files. Sometimes your web browser will do so automatically. Other times, you may need specific software such as Apple iTunes, Quicktime or Real Player. The basic versions of these are free.
- A little tech support when needed. Even the most seasoned computer user needs help from time to time. At Essex Meadows, our tech-savvy staff members are on hand to troubleshoot or offer assistance when you have a question.
Regardless of what you are seeking to learn and why, you’ll find a huge selection of courses out there. It might take a while to find that one special topic that captures your imagination. But rest assured it’s out there!
At Essex Meadows, we’ve created an environment that encourages you to stay connected to your passions. Whatever is close to your heart and nurtures your soul is the answer to aging gracefully, actively and happily. Learn more about the philosophy that underlies our vibrant independent lifestyle and supportive health services such as assisted living or skilled nursing.