Self-education for free (or cheap)

Feel like you need to brush up on, or learn completely new areas? In this era, librarians have many tools for self-education. To learn more about a subject area you’re liaison to, or to learn a programming language, or be able to understand what your colleagues are talking about, or computing concepts that would help you do your job better, the following may be hepful. (and maybe lead to more lucrative positions/promotions in the future?)

  • Books and ebooks through your library
    • Don’t discount the availability of learning materials that you can access right now through your place of employment (print and e books) or public library. I have found a great source in our Springer e-books collection, and also the “Very Short Introduction to …” print book series from Oxford. Interlibrary Loan is always an option.
    • One caveat: computer-related books tend to go out of date quickly as new versions of software are released, so try to get the most recent editions and be prepared for occasional glitches when something doesn’t work quite right because you’re using a different version than the author(s) did.
  • MOOCs and other online learning systems
    • MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) by Coursera, Saylor.org and many others are providing classes that are either ongoing scheduled classes or self-directed learning. These are typically free and unaccredited options that you can try without much investment or consequence if you don’t like a particular class. I initially signed up for a Coursera class on Algorithms but quickly found it was too difficult and out of my league (and too theoretical). I am about to sign up for a Saylor class on databases — if it’s too advanced, I’ll opt out. No harm, no foul, no money lost.
    • For self-directed online learning on computer-related topics (without the homework or exams), try w3chools.com and CodeAcademy.
  • Take a “real” class.
    Does your institution allow you to take classes for free or cheap? What about local options? What about departments you liaise to — can you sit in on a professor’s class for one semester? (Clear that with your boss first!)
  • Rampant Googling and Wiki-ing.
    There is no reason to be confused about terms or concepts when you can pop them into Google or Wikipedia and Read All About It. When in conversation with people who are talking in technical terms that I don’t understand, I try to make written or mental notes and look up the mysterious stuff later. For my learning style, this can help me gain at least superficial understanding and create a foundation for deeper learning later on. [Use your information literacy powers to determine if you’re reading credible sources.]
  • Educational videos.
    Khan Academy and others have many free educational videos on the web, why not take advantage of them? The ubiquity of comments helps with information literacy concerns, as you will note if somebody has left out something of import.Incidentally if you need to learn anything “mundane” from how to crochet to how to chop an onion efficiently, YouTube probably has several dozen videos on the subject.
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