You might think signing up for continuing education programs will take too much time out of your day and too much money out of your wallet.
Fortunately, there are free or low-fee continuing education courses that can be delivered right to your inbox. They can kick-start your learning, or help you discover your interests for more formal education down the road.
3 email-based continuing education courses
You might already be spending a lot of time on email. Maybe you’re bombarded by discounts from online retailers, unusual requests from Nigerian princes, and other forms of spam.
Here are three address more worthy of your inbox space.
With daily 5-minute lessons comprising 10-day courses, Highbrow asks for the least amount of time and money to sign up. That’s probably why it claims to have more than 300,000 users. The site has 170 courses to choose from and keeps growing.
You can sign up for one course at a time, picking from 15 different categories, including arts, business, and productivity.
Highbrow’s structure is for those of us lacking discipline, as you can only take one course at a time, receiving one daily email. But if you prefer learning in chunks, you could archive the emails and review them at your convenience. Once the course has ended, you can also sign up for another, as Highbrow has no way of knowing whether you read all your lessons.
Each lesson hits your inbox bright and early so that you can you check it off the list as you pore through your morning messages. Ads might appear in your text-only emails if you’re a free subscriber.
Upgrading to Highbrow Premium ($4 per month) gives you more course options, ad-free lessons, and interactive quizzes. I haven’t found the need to upgrade after a few months of using the basic subscription; there are plenty of free courses to choose from, and the ads aren’t distracting.
If you have a genuine curiosity about learning certain topics — anything from creating a podcast to building a web scraping tool — Highbrow is a great, free resource. You might find the instruction too basic if you already know quite a bit about the course topic, but it’ll at least give you a foundation. Then you can jump off into more formalized continuing education courses, even pursue a professional certification.
Price: Free, or $4 per month for premium access
Pro: Great selection of courses might make the premium subscription unnecessary for most users.
Con: Highbrow’s one-course-at-a-time approach limits users from learning about different topics simultaneously.
Unlike Highbrow, which prompts you to pick what you want to learn about from a list, Curious.com takes a different tact. It asks you to complete a 10-part questionnaire that decides your courses for you.
It aims to fill out your eight wedges of curiosity. You’ll see topics ranging from STEM to sports because the wedges are meant to connect the brain’s varying learning centers. The thinking is based on scientific research on, in part, humans’ multiple intelligences.
Here’s a version of what you might see after completing the questionnaire:
This is how Curious.com decides which of its lessons — 3,500 lessons of the 25,000 lesson library are for free subscribers — to deliver to your inbox.
If this all sounds overwhelming, boil it down to one email per day. Whether you’re a free or paid subscriber ($9.99 per month), you’ll receive a personalized “workout” in your inbox. You can read your quick “Curio” lesson for the morning and move on within five minutes, or click to work on puzzles or watch in-depth classes based on your interests.
That’s the one clear downside of Curious.com. You can engage with the daily workout and read through weekly emails (like the Sunday Mindset Curio, above), but you’ll have to leave your inbox to find more in-depth lessons.
It’ll be worth it if you get to know your wheel. On the desktop version of the site, you can click on any wedge and take classes fitting your interests.
Curious.com also hopes its points system keeps you engaged. On the desktop version of the site, you earn points for completing lessons and competing against other users. I earned eight points, for example, by watching a 13-minute video about probability and statistics, a topic chosen from my colorful wheel.
If you’re someone who uses YouTube to watch video tutorials, think of Curious.com as a highly-curated version of the same thing. The teachers and their material — anything from beer brewing to, yes, math — has been vetted by the platform. You won’t have to click around until you find a lesson worth watching.
Price: Free, or $9.99 per month for premium access
Pro: Your lists of courses are customized for you, which is valuable for users who might not know what they want to learn.
Con: The most value of the platform — from the video courses to the points-based competition — has to be gained on the website, not in your inbox.
3. Now I Know
Whereas Highbrow and Curious encourage you to take courses based on your interests, Now I Know encourages you to be interested in anything and everything. The daily emails from Dan Lewis, the newsletter’s author, reach 100,000-plus subscribers.
The first week of topics to reach my inbox might make you think twice about signing up:
- Monday: The Squeegee that Saved Lives
- Tuesday: The Power of Being Bored
- Wednesday: What Happens When a Monkey Takes an Awesome Picture of Itself?
- Thursday: How a Good Breakfast Helped Create a Sneaker Empire
The cute titles of the lessons don’t always match up with the content. For example, Wednesday’s email used a light-hearted prompt to launch into a more serious discussion about copyright law.
Friday’s weekender email is not a continuing education course, more a review of the week. It includes educational content found around the web. You might see a link to a lengthy investigative piece from ProPublica, for example.
Also free, Lewis’ emails are supported by in-email advertisements and affiliate links. If you fall in love with Now I Know, you can volunteer to support its projects.
Now I Know is probably not going to teach you a new skill or trade, but it has a better shot at making you think about the world differently. Lewis’ posts, such as the one about President Lincoln creating the Secret Service on the day of his assassination, could also send you down a rabbit hole searching for more information. But that’s probably the point anyway.
Price: Free, but donations are welcome
Pro: The simple but interesting nature of the newsletter’s content makes it worthwhile and covers up for the in-email ads and affiliate links.
Con: Now I Know might engage your mind, but the content is typically not as practical as other email-based continuing education courses.
A warmup for continuing education courses
You might like the idea of Now I Know’s daily one-offs. Or maybe you prefer the more classroom-like content from Highbrow or Curious.
Either way, these emails are a good test for what you’d like to study via more formal continuing education. If you become immersed in Highbrow’s introductory courses on content marketing or coding, for example, you could end up seeking continuing education courses that upgrade your career.
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