Family Lifestyle

Back to school…for the rest of us

Back to school…for the rest of us
August 29, 2014

“You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.” –Julia Child All across the nation, parents are breathing sighs of relief as their children head back to school. But

“You’ll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.”

–Julia Child

All across the nation, parents are breathing sighs of relief as their children head back to school.

But how about ourselves? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a strong believer in lifelong learning. It keeps us focused, interested, and engaged. It helps our communities. And whether you want to teach or learn, there’s a place for you, either in person or online.

While I have the greatest respect for traditional universities and our wonderful community colleges, there are so many resources available online today that make it easy to stay active and engaged in learning. Back in the early 2000s when I started an early online learning company that did classes for consumers on all sorts of topics sponsored by major brands – we were a bit ahead of our time. Now technologies –specifically video applications- have evolved so much to support and make online classes truly visual, interactive and engaging.

Though we juggle our work, projects, kids and other commitments and it can be crazy, many of the online courses are self-paced, making them more manageable.  And BTW, a report by the U.S. Department of Education has found that classes with online learning (either solely or as a component) on average produce stronger student learning outcomes than do classes with solely face-to-face instruction – especially among older learners.

Here are some of the best distance learning apps and sites that I’ve come across. These can be used whether you want to share your knowledge or want to learn…or, ideally, both! Here are five I recommend, with a bonus thrown in for good measure!



Canvas is an open source platform for online collaboration that’s designed to be easy to use. It’s free and used by more than 800 colleges and universities. A sampling of courses shows a wide range of diverse material from “The Great Depression to the War on Terror,” a history course presented by a Seattle Central Community College Professor, to “Parenting in the Digital Age,” a course by the director of technology from an Indiana school district. These self-paced courses include video lectures, discussion forums, group work and more. Canvas’ motto is Keep Learning, something I think we can all agree with!


The Coursera online portal also hosts classes from major universities around the country and the world, basically providing a way for you to learn at your own pace or audit classes from the comfort of your desktop. It currently boasts 9 million students, 737 courses and 110 partners, with both free and paid courses. In its specialization area you can take a group of courses, for example, to earn a Cybersecurity Certificate from the University of Maryland (for a fee). They also offer financial aid, by the way!




ePals says it’s “where learners connect”. It maintains a community of collaborative classrooms engaged in cross-cultural exchanges, project sharing and language education. It’s a sharing site that offers a way for groups of students around the world to be matched up and paired with other classrooms, and allows teachers to create their own projects or collaborate on others. It’s all about learning through experience.  I think this site is what the future is going to look like…at its best: People all over the world sharing knowledge together.


edX is one of the leading sites for accessing free, open online courses. Harvard and MIT founded this platform, and offers classes from those amazing institutions, as well as classes from a growing list of partners. One course coming this week that caught my eye is UT Austin’s course on “Ideas of the Twentieth Century.”

iTunes U

Apple’s site and app for online and connected learning, iTunes U provides thousands of audio and video courses on-demand and the world’s largest catalog of free education content. You can access learning and presentations from many top schools and universities worldwide, including Stanford, Harvard, MIT and more.


And now for the bonus…

Don’t have time to commit to a class this fall? There’s an awesome YouTube presentation featuring Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clark and Stephen Hawking here about “God, The Universe, and Everything Else.” Now that’s education in less than an hour.

Happy back to school, everyone!

August 29, 2014