Education That Beats Inflation: 6 Ways to Learn for Free

By , dealnews contributor

At dealnews, we pride ourselves on our ability to spot bargains in any consumer product category you can name. That includes looking in to ways to save on your and your brood's education, though we wouldn't blame you if you've given up hope, as college costs have soared far above inflation for years. According to a 2011 Pew Research Center report, a four-year private college education tripled in cost between 1980 and 2010. Moreover, the study finds that fewer families think attending a major university merits such a hefty price tag. A whopping 75% of Americans say college is too expensive for most to afford: student loan debt for a bachelor's degree now averages more than $23,000 per student borrower, the Pew report finds.

Maybe that's why universities are so aggressively pursuing Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. A recent article in The Verge details how 40 public universities (including Arizona State, Cleveland State, and the University of Arkansas) plan to offer free online courses in the spring, which will carry full credit. It's all part of an effort to entice potential students to sign up for a full degree program. The best part of MOOCs is anyone can take them; as long as you have a computer and an Internet connection, you're all set.

This shift towards free university-accredited classes got us thinking: What are some great ways to score some free learning, of any sort? With that, we fired up the dealnews Education Bargain Finder Apparatus (developed in conjunction with our top-secret team of university professors in tweed jackets with elbow patches) and came up with this list of ways you can get the learnin' without spending what you're earnin'. Read on, and study carefully: There could be a pop quiz at the end.

Yes, We Khan: The Khan Academy's Video Series

If you're spending all your time on YouTube watching dancing hamsters and Kim Khardashian talk about her pregnancy and not learning much, you might want to put that couch potato time to better use. Khan Academy claims to have delivered more than 241 million lessons via its extensive video library, which also offers students interactive challenges, and assessments from the comfort of their home, coffee shop, etc. Khan Academy is also an exhaustive resource for coaches, parents, and teachers: it offers a library of more than 4,000 videos that instruct K-12 math, biology, chemistry, and physics. It even reaches into the humanities with playlists on finance and history. Each video is approximately 10 minutes long and especially purposed for viewing on a computer.

The Online Audacity of Udacity

Another free online education site with a particular stress on computer science and math-related disciplines is Udacity, which currently offers close to two dozen courses at the college level. Udacity is unique in that it focuses on the fun parts of learning without quizzes, deadlines, and prerequisites. Like Khan Academy, it features bite-sized instructional videos; it also facilitates forums and meetups with peers to support learning. And when you're done, you get a certificate of completion that will help you with your academic and career advancement goals.

Learning in the Cloud: Pearson Opens OpenClass

The textbook and learning industry giant Pearson launched OpenClass at the end of 2011. It's a system that integrates with Google's Android apps for education; with a single sign-on and a unified navigation bar, instructors and students can launch OpenClass from within Google Apps or access their Google applications from OpenClass. How's that for "smart smartphone?" Pearson's giving this online experience away because it hopes it will spark business for related products ranging from eTextbooks to tutoring software.

Free Books Worth a Look: The Gutenberg Project

Imagine having a vast library of books at your fingertips, all for free, and as close as our laptop or tablet. Project Gutenberg offers more than 42,000 volumes, including free Kindle books, and eBooks previously published by reputable publishing houses. They will ask for a donation, which you should consider if you become a repeat visitor. The eBooks are free in the United States because their copyright has expired. The top 100 books can be found here and include Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Beowulf, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

More Free Books Worth a Look: The Harvard Classics

Curated by Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot and published in 1909, the Harvard Classics are just what you'd expect: great volumes from the world of literature, philosophy, religion, history, and folklore. Want 'em for free? To quote Shakespeare, all thou need doest is to clicketh here. The 52-volume series includes Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and two collections of Elizabethan drama. Eliot claimed that 15 minutes of reading in these volumes every day would form the foundation of a sound liberal arts education. They're also said to counteract years of brain atrophy from watching aforementioned Kim Kardashian videos.

Handy Courses in Home Improvement

We understand that for some of you, reading a free volume of Plutarch under ye olde oak tree isn't going to cut it, though learning how to work a miter saw would. Home Depot offers free weekly workshops on a wide range of categories. Understand that with Home Depot's free instruction, you're stepping into a consumer candyland of all sorts of cool tools on sale, so if you spend $1,000 on a power tool arsenal, don't say we didn't warn you. Upcoming workshops include "Installing Door Locks & Accessories" (March 9), "The Newest Trends in Vinyl Flooring" (March 10), and "Front Entrance Update" (March 16). Seminars typically last 90 minutes. Want more? Lowe's offers free online shop class projects that show you how to build an entertaining cart, or how to use — you guessed it — a miter saw.

And now for that pop quiz we promised you, and it's a tough question: Are you ready to take a step forward in making your learning dreams come true?

a) Yes
b) Maybe
c) Not Sure
d) I'm watching a Dancing Hamsters video and cannot be disturbed
e) None of the above

If you answered "e" because cost is the obstacle, we understand. But with all the free resources we've just given you, the only commodity that hangs in the balance is time. You may not think you have the time, either, but to quote a wise and wonderful mentor of mine, "Don't find the time: Steal it." Your learning adventure awaits. The YouTube videos can wait.

Front page photo credit: Pierce Penniless
Photo credits top to bottom: Jason Whurley,
edudemic, Public Domain Treasure Hunter,
Open Culture, Home Utilities Blog, and Koi Fusion

Lou Carlozo is a dealnews contributing writer. He covers personal finance for Reuters Wealth. Prior to that he was the managing editor of, and a veteran columnist at the Chicago Tribune.

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DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
@ibex333 excellent suggestion
add to that list