Look around you… I mean online. Everything you see is powered by some form of web technology. Every day, you interface, indirectly, with MySQL databases, PHP code, and HTML that makes it all show up. Almost everything you touch on the web could be created by you, too, with some time and the right education. Last week, I talked about a slew of places to learn online for free and I know a lot of you are interested in how webpages are created, what programming languages exist, and the technology that drives the web. If you’re worries about where to start or things being too technical, don’t worry. My goal is to introduce more of this kind of information on this blog and help others learn what I know.
So what does all this mean? It means I’m planning to bring you much of my regular content (reviews, guest articles, etc.) as well as new content that explains how stuff works in plain language so everyone can follow along. But first, I need to know what you want to want to learn more about. You can suggest anything, but here’s a list of example topics to get you started:
- Basic HTML
- Glossary of web terms
- How to series (create a web page, set up a form, accept payments online)
- Beginners PHP
- Working with frameworks
- Software for programmers
- How the web works
- What’s a 404 or 403?
Choose from a topic above or offer up your own idea. Give me your request in a comment below and I’ll do my best to accommodate. In addition, loyal viewers may have noticed something new on the right side of the page recently. While in Vegas last January, I met up with a company called Wizpert who connects experts with people who need help. If you ever have a programming or technology question, click the little orange “W” on the right to connect with me on Skype. I’m here to help.
With a recent career shift, I’ve found myself in search of all the knowledge I can absorb and I am truly amazed by all the free resources there are to learn on the Internet. My focus is on web programming, but I’ll include information about learning in other areas as well. Before we start, don’t forget to bookmark this page so you can always get back to the list of sites easily.
Know Your Focus
Like anything, learning takes time and if you’re like me, that time is very valuable. You will end up browsing through courses before you land on one, but it will help if you can minimize the time spent looking for the right courses and maximize the time spent learning. Before you begin your search, ask yourself three things:
What is my goal? (think generally)
How much time will I devote to this every week?
Will I learn better with a structured lengthy course or smaller sessions?
Just to give you an example, here are my answers:
Goal: Improve my web development knowledge and start learning about data science
Time: 10-15(max) hours a week
Structured or Fast: I’m better with fast learning but will try a structured course where needed.
Spend 10 minutes answering these questions and you’ll spend a lot less time finding your online courses.
Find The Free Classes
This may seem like the hardest part, but it’s pretty simple, really. I’ve listed some of what I’ve found below, although this is by no means an exhaustive list:
MIT Open Courseware
Yes, you read that correctly. You can get an MIT education for free. Using the built-in course finder, you can select from a variety of disciplines to choose from one of their (currently) 2,150 courses. With this many courses, a recognized and respected name, and a class structure eerily similar to being there, this may be the closest you’ll get to an expensive education without spending a dime. You may not get the degree, but you’ll have the tools to go out and get the experience.
Like MIT, Coursera offers real courses online in a number of areas, making it a great fit for those looking to fill diverse learning needs. Coursera also provides the comfort of the established institution doing the teaching. The difference is that they bring together instructors and courses from many universities around the world. I haven’t started my first class yet, so I can’t speak to the experience, but in 17 days, I embark on a new learning adventure here and I’m excited about it.
Although ALISON is also fresh on my radar, it’s one I’m looking closely at for it’s approach that stands apart from other free education sites. ALISON offers the standard list of free courses but also offers free certificate and diploma courses and from the looks of it, they’re pretty popular. In many industries, the certificate or diploma, itself is required just to get an interview. Whether either from ALISON will be treated the same as one from a brick-and-mortar university is something I don’t know, but it’s better than none at all, I’m sure.
Another site offering certificate-wielding courses is edX. With free courses from places like Harvard, Berkeley, and Rice, both the certificate and the learning experience, itself promise to be a great free find.
A much smaller player in the field, Udacity has a limited selection of courses, but free is free.
MOOC2Degree, which in part stands for “massive open online course” has a different approach. Mixing the free learning practice with a sales hook, universities pick a number of classes from various degree paths that they provide online for free to give students a jump start. After taking the free classes, the goal is for the student to continue along the degree path which includes paying for classes as you would historically. The benefit is that you actually earn credit for the free classes, too.
Also somewhat limited, AE is more of a central repository of lecture videos. At a quick glance, I didn’t see any follow-up tests, but I did find a link to communicate with the instructor and ask questions. If you’re the type to watch, learn ask, and move on, this might be worth a look.
One of the first such sites I learned about, Khan Academy offers quick learning sessions in programming, art, and a few other topics. Being more community based like Reddit University, Khan makes it easy for anyone to teach others as well.
I tried iTunes University some time ago with my iPhone and did not like it at first, although I’m now armed with an iPad and ready to give it another shot. A great benefit of iTunes U is the ability to download all the course video and material and take the class offline from wherever. Mostly reading and watching videos, it’s easy to participate from your iPad on a plane or road trip, while on the couch, etc.
University of Reddit
For those unfamiliar, Reddit is a site full of links, fun stuff, and general social and political discussions. As a software engineer, I have a couple areas on Reddit bookmarked for daily reading. It helps me keep up-to-date with industry talk. Although I’ve not used the sister site University of Reddit myself, it looks like a great source of free learning with a broad range of topics from computing to art to math to philosophy. Provided by other active Reddit users, each course receives upvotes and downvotes just like Reddit links, helping the most useful content bubble up to the top. This is definitely worth checking out and on my list for this weekend.
Also not free, but worth a mention, Treehouse’s courses are structured much like Code School and it’s easy to complete one or two a night after work. Like Code School, Treehouse also has paths like Websites, Business, IOS, Programming, Android and similarly, you can pick and choose individual courses to your liking. I learned one day of a special which included all the courses I can handle (the Gold plan) in 12 months for about $50. This is normally $490 (or $49 per month), but If I were paying full price, I would opt for the Silver plan at $25 per month which is also unlimited courses but does not include other workshops and perks that the Gold plan includes. Taking a couple courses every other night at Treehouse, it would be well worth the $25 per month in my opinion.
When I started to write this article, I began with a bookmarked list of seven sites I had looked at. With a couple quick searches, this list grew to 12 in no time. If you don’t find what you’re looking for on any of these sites, search Google and ask around. I’m sure there’s more I’ve missed and free online education is a topic that is only gaining in momentum with new sites turning up all the time.
I’d love to hear about any sites I’ve missed and your experiences with free education, so comment below. More importantly, I wrote this article because I’m asked about these sites every time I mention that I’m taking a free class online. Please share this list on Facebook or via email and help keep the free education movement growing.
Have you ever wondered what the web used to look like long before the browser wars? Today, another developer in my office reminded me of how we used to see the web twenty years ago. Back then, Google hadn’t been envisioned yet and Yahoo! was just a couple hundred or so links indexed by hand. And Yahoo! wasn’t Yahoo!. It was still just “Jerry’s guide to the world wide web” at the time. The Internet was barely in use and mostly just within the walls of colleges and universities. This, my friends, was the World Wide Web in 1994.
Today’s Yahoo! in 1993′s Lynx Browser
It was just text and not many sites to browse, but my college lunch hours were spent happily discovering content from around the world. As great as it was, I was elated to welcome the SLIP and PPP connections that joined forces with the first graphical browsers so offer a WWW with images and that I could browse with a mouse. Yahoo quickly became much easier to use.
Yahoo! in 1994 in Netscape
As you’re aware, we’ve come a long way since then. We watch videos, search billions of web pages in an instant, share photos and listen to music, not only from feature-rich web browsers at our desks, but also from our phones. It’s amazing how far we’ve come and leaves me optimistic for what the future of web technology holds.
Yahoo! Today in Chrome
Do you remember your first time online. Get nostalgic and comment below with your first internet experience. What site (or news group, for that matter) was it and when? Better yet, click the Facebook share button below and include your story.