Albert Einstein famously said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
This sentiment can also apply to your brain. When you stop learning, some parts of your brain start to atrophy while unused neural connections wither away.
Fortunately, this is the greatest time in history to keep up with lifelong learning. The internet has made much of man’s knowledge available at your fingertips for free.
And one man who has possibly done the most to make free education accessible to everyone around the world is Salman Khan.
Free World Class Education for Everyone
There was little in Salman Khan’s background that would hint that he would found the world’s largest school, the Khan Academy. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and three degrees from MIT. Before he quit his job to work full-time on the online academy, he was, of all things, a hedge fund analyst, an occupation not exactly known for its altruism. He has been known to joke that after his original career choice it was very strange to do something of social value!
What started as a few online tutoring sessions to help his young cousin learn algebra turned into a collection of 4,600 video lessons that have been viewed over 260 million times. Anyone can join for free. It’s exciting that poor kids across the world can access these high quality classes, the same ones that even Bill Gates uses as a learning adjunct with his own kids!
If you are looking to fill gaps in your education or want to continue your education without stepping foot inside a classroom, visit KhanAcademy.org. You’ll find free world-class tutorials on nearly every conceivable topic including math, art, computer programming, economics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, finance, history, and more. There is material for students of all ages and a good selection of video brainteasers in the recreational math department. (“Recreational math” sounds like an oxymoron to me!)
These videos are unquestionably low-tech. There are no special effects or talking heads which Khan felt would be distracting. He wanted pupils to focus on the lesson at hand as if student and teacher were working side by side on a note pad together. So the Khan Academy’s signature style is an audio lesson accompanied by an electronic blackboard with handwritten doodles and diagrams that look like this image on the right.
Khan Academy is a not-for-profit organization that states its mission as “changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere”. The site’s resources have been used by students, teachers, home-schoolers, principals, and adults returning to the classroom.
The One World School House
In The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, Salman Khan writes about his radical vision for the future of education as well as his own remarkable story. He’s actually surprisingly funny. He quips that when he started tutoring multiple cousins, they told him they liked him better on YouTube than in person. Ouch!
Khan never meant these videos to be seen by anyone besides his cousins so he was surprised when he started getting positive feedback not just from students but from teachers as well.
Students liked that they could learn at their own pace. They could comfortably pause and repeat a lesson with no embarrassment.
Teachers liked that they could use these lessons as an adjunct to the classroom. Kids who were struggling could learn at home to catch up. Kids that were fired up about a topic could surge ahead. Some teachers have even assigned watching videos as homework.
In this TED Talk video, you can hear Khan tell how and why he started the online academy in his own words.
Mentors and Volunteers Needed
Another way you can use these classes to stay mentally sharp is to become a Khan Academy coach or mentor. No particular educational requirements are needed, just a keen interest in a particular topic.
If you are bilingual, the academy is looking for volunteers to help with translations. They just released a full university in Spanish and are working on translating all the videos into all major languages.
There are no foreign language lessons on the curriculum yet. You can get those from sites like Pimsleur Approach online language lessons.
For Great Entertainment Value
If you are looking for lessons that are professionally produced and visually arresting, Khan Academy isn’t it. If you like your education to have a bit more entertainment value, I’d recommend The Great Courses.
They offer college-level courses on 390 topics by the best professors in the world — only 1 out of 5,000 professors make the cut! Courses are available as DVDs, CDs, or video and audio streaming. There is something for every interest and price range — courses run from under $40 to hundreds of dollars.
It doesn’t really matter how you stay engaged in lifelong learning, as long as you do it! Travel, learning a language, creating art, and playing music are equally excellent ways to exercise your mind and keep your brain fit for life.
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