September is typically the start of the academic year, even if it happens a week or so later here in Spain. The end of the lazy summer holidays, and time to sharpen our pencils and turn over to a clean new leaf in our Agendas – full of good intentions for renewed attention and commitment to the new start.

Or, so we attempt to impress upon our kids at least, as we start gathering up the books and bits and bobs – but what about us grown-ups? We might not have the luxury and flexibility of full-time student life, but there are myriad ways we can continue our education in this connected world, wherever we are. Here are a round-up of some great sources of authoritative learning to broaden your skills in your own time, and best of all the ones we are reviewing here are FREE! So, no more excuses then…

Khan Academy –
I love this site. Watch thousands of video lessons in maths, computer science, economics, science and humanities. Beautifully put together and with a huge following, they explain things simply and clearly. This is a fantastic resource not only for your own learning but also to help older children, if they are struggling with the Spanish system – to have the same lesson such as a mathematical process or principle explained again in their native language, perhaps in a new way that might be easier to understand, can make everything click into place.

There’s a neat iPad app too for learning on the go. And speaking of which, perhaps you want to design your own apps? They won’t teach you this in Spanish or English schools (yet), but you can learn the programming for free with Khan. There’s also a teacher dashboard so you can manage homeschooling or tutoring.

They are also specifically seeking volunteer translators, to spread the educational word even further, in case you are able to help at all with that.

Book Boon –
Need to be better read? This site has a good selection of business-oriented ebooks, covering a wide range of topics. The standard of writing and expertise varies a lot, and you won’t come out of this site with an MBA, but if you want to give yourself some basic grounding in subjects like marketing, using MS Office software, Sales, Careers guidance etc, you could do a lot worse than have a browse here. It’s all free although they will add you to an email list and try and persuade you to advertise them ( you don’t have to).

You can download the ebooks immediately on supplying your name plus (any) email address, and they are pdfs you can save to any device for later reading.
Want to drop more names? Feel like you’ve heard of someone but can’t remember what it is they are important or famous for, or perhaps you know what they did but can’t quite get the name to the tip of your tongue? is a treasure trove of unique biographical articles, that you can search by name, or browse by category – categories ranging from ‘batman villains’ to ‘sculptors’ to ‘Titanic passengers’. The articles are rich and informative, often with video, and are another brilliant adjunct to school projects. If you need to impress your kids or anyone else with your exhaustive knowledge of any reasonably famous person you will probably find them here, although it can never be totally comprehensive of course and the US orientation grates a bit.

Guide to Grammar and Writing
If you wish you could express yourself more precisely and articulately in your personal or business communications, or avoid embarrassment when your kids ask you whether that was in fact the present participle you were using, then perhaps you want to study some grammar?

A lot of us educated in the UK during the 70s and 80s never learned English grammar at all, I thought it was something they only had in French! Even some of us who now make a living using words still sometimes have to think hard about what part of the sentence we are using, or have trouble helping our Spanish friends understand what is wrong with what they just said (“because you just wouldn’t say it like that!” is no help really is it?) – this site can help. Studying your own language in terms of its grammar and structure is actually also extremely helpful when it comes to learning other languages, and making the connections that help you remember by pattern and association rather than randomly.

A predictable caveat about this one – use it to learn the grammar, NOT the spelling – assuming you want to perfect your “English” English, as we invented it in the first place.

Of course there are dozens of others, and many of the world’s greatest universities offer considerable resources for free for self study. Amidst all the rubbish and nonsense on the internet, there are phenomenal resources of information, interest and enlightenment… the challenge is cutting through to the good stuff amongst the dross. A further challenge is of course, as with the language learning resources we examined recently, none of these sites have any link to download the learning directly into your cerebral cortex – they can present the material but you still have to study it and learn from it. Tools like videos, quizzes, tests and checklists make this easier and more fun than staring at a textbook as we did a generation ago, but it still requires effort and concentration, along with the ability to filter through to the resources you need.

It’s all out there though, learning was never so vastly and freely available to all. Move over kids, we are all going back to school today!


Published in Costa Blanca News, 14-07-12

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