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Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Online Learning Opportunities

Retirement is a time for exploring and learning. A vast array of online educational opportunities await, and some are free.     

Have you ever wanted to take a class at a top university, but you couldn’t afford it? Are you a little bored in retirement and looking for a way to keep your brain active and engaged? Do you feel like you missed out on your educational goals, but now you have the time to pursue them? Are you looking for an interesting experience that is a little out of the ordinary, taught by someone who is at the top of their field? Not ready to end your career, but you want to work in a different field? Sounds like you’re ready for online classes.

MOOC Lowers the Bar

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) movement has opened the field for learning anywhere there is high-speed internet. Often these excellent classes are offered at little or no cost, and you don’t have to meet any prerequisites to sign up. You can take classes from MIT, Harvard, and Yale that you may have dreamed about but knew you could never afford. There’s no driving involved, and you can often take them at your own pace. 

Travel Learning

Make new friends while traveling far or near with a trio of offerings that combine globetrotting with learning. 
  1. Earthwatch Institute is a nonprofit that connects top scientists with laymen on its expeditions, where you’ll work on research projects and analyze data. Choose a location and project according to your interests, but read the fine print about how fit you need to be to carry it out. Pick something within your ability, then book your experience!
  2. Oxford University Summer School for Adults is a residential summer program that offers 60 accredited courses, each a week long, over a five-week period in central Oxford. Classes max out at 10 students of all ages studying a broad array of topics from architecture to theology. Live on campus or in town. 
  3. Road Scholar offers hundreds of educational travel adventures both inside and beyond U.S. borders. Join fellow birders, attend an archeological dig, ride a camel in Egypt … opportunities abound. Lodgings are usually comfortable but not high-end, and trips invariably emphasize learning paired with related destinations.
Most of the free classes offer nothing but the satisfaction of the knowledge you gain. An added bonus may be that there is no pressure from quizzes or tests. Some, though, offer a certificate of completion, often at a nominal cost, if that’s important to you. There’s no limit to how many classes you can take, and you can sample a variety of classes from different universities. 

Where to Start

Ground zero is the edX website, an online clearinghouse created in 2012 that is the joint brainchild of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. Their vision: “As a mission-driven organization, we’re relentlessly pursuing our vision of a world where every learner can access education to unlock their potential, without the barriers of cost or location.” 

Millions of students use it every year to take over 3,000 diverse classes in subjects from negotiation to Chinese to cloud computing. Imagine the change that so much knowledge creates — and you can be a part of it! 

Once on the platform, you can sort by level, subject, learning institution, or type of class. You’ll be learning from the best with MIT, Harvard, Caltech, the Sorbonne, Cornell, Dartmouth, Stanford and the like participating. That’s right: you, too, can be an Ivy Leaguer. All of the courses are self-paced, so you can take a month or a year to finish. Studying can take place in your home, the library, your favorite coffee shop, or a combination of all three. 

Another route to take is via Coursera, which offers everything from one-day courses to master’s degrees from such varied institutions as Rice University and the University of Sydney. There’s a wide selection of free courses from both universities and companies, but be aware that degree programs and some classes are for a fee. 

Udemy has more than 183,000 video courses that start at $14.99. If you have ever wanted to learn coding, web development, JavaScript, Excel, data science, or drawing, this may be the platform for you. Courses feature real reviews, often by more than 100,000 users, that are useful when narrowing down your choices. 


In a class of its own is the renowned MasterClass. These are not your typical university classes, but presentations brought to you by world-class experts in the topic. Learn about songwriting and production from Mariah Carey, or let Gordon Ramsay show you how to prepare restaurant favorites at home. 

More than 100 classes are offered, each comprised of about 20 lessons of 10 minutes each. Choose from community and government, where a past president may be your instructor, or delve into writing, business, wellness, style, sports, and more. An annual subscription gives access to the whole library of classes and any new ones that launch that year for $180. 

No matter what your interest, if you want a degree or a short learning session, if you have nothing to spend or plenty, there’s an educational experience out there that meets your needs.