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Studying for Personal Enrichment

By JANE AMMESON

   Even ten years ago, taking a personal enrichment class entailed slogging over to the local high school for an in-your-seat cooking or computer class. Home study courses (raise your hands all of you out there old enough to remember the fuzzy videos used in those early classes) were for academics.But now, online personal enrichment encompasses a wide—and often esoteric—range of subjects such as running a community blog, song writing tips and techniques, writing a medical memoir, cinematic arts, learning a language and how to raise musical kids.
    It’s a way to develop new interests and to upgrade our skills. Take those who misspent their youth listening to the pounding beats of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and other songs of that ilk and now know nothing about Beethoven and Mozart. Rectify that lack of knowledge by signing up  for “How to Listen to Classical Music,” an online enrichment course offered by the New York Times Knowledge Network (www.nytimesknownow.com), one of many enrichment courses offered via the Internet that include “Design of Energy and Water Conserving Landscapes” and Women and Philanthropy: The Time is Now.” All New York Times Knowledge Network courses, which are 100% online, are created and taught by New York Times journalists or professional staff. Some, such as James R. Kincaid’s “Recalling Childhood, Writing about the Early Years,” have a start and end date. Others, like “California Wines: Napa Cabernet,” a class that encourages students to invite some friends over for an evening of wine and instruction including commentary by guest writer Eric Asimov, are self-paced.
    Want to channel your inner Ivy Leaguer? Purchase “Medical Myths, Lies and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us” taught by Professor Steven Novella, M.D., Georgetown University, Yale School of Medicine or “Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest” with Professor Jennifer Paxton, Ph.D., Harvard University, Georgetown University. Both are available in four  formats from The Great Courses (www.thegreatcourses.com) which offers both video and audio courses led by the top 1% of professors from leading universities.
    Though there’s usually a charge for classes, free ones  are part of a growing trend to make knowledge available to all.
    Harvard University Extension School (www.extension.harvard. edu/openlearning) offers such downloadable freebees as “The Heroic and the Anti-Heroic in Classical Greek Civilization taught by Gregory Nagy, PhD, Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature, Professor of Comparative Literature, and Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University or “Abstract Algebra” with Benedict Gross, PhD, George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Mathematics, Harvard University. Courses like these are part of Harvard Extension School’s Open Learning Initiative designed to offer free noncredit online courses featuring Harvard faculty.
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology OpenCourseWare (OCW) provides free web-based publications of almost all their department course content including lecture notes, exams and downloadable videos. Though the course content is the same as that taught to students through such MIT departments as Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Music and Theater Arts and Nuclear Science and Engineering, the self-paced courses at http://ocw.mit.edu don’t apply towards a degree or credit.
    The goal of the not-for-profit Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org/), whose Website says that they’ve delivered 62,579,586 lessons, is to “change education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.” The academy has received funding from The Gates Foundation and won Google's Project 10 to the 100th ideas to change the world. You won’t find wine tasting on their list of over all 2400 online videos and exercises covering areas such as arithmetic, physics, finance, computer science, calculus, currency exchange and history as well as preparation for such tests as the SAT and Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) in 12-minute or so videos, helping break down difficult subjects into understandable chunks like Pythagorean Theorem, Mean Value Theorem and demos of problem solving for the 249 math questions in the official GMAC GMAT book. But Khan Academy isn’t just for brainiacs—it also offers videos in developmental math and brain teasers.
    Open Culture (www.openculture.com) offers 365 courses in a variety of formats including Web video (“Ancient and Medieval Philosophy” with Professor David O’Connor of Notre Dame) and downloadable (“Game Theory” with Ben Polak, Professor of Economics and Management in the Department of Economics and the School of Management at Yale University. The site also presents classes through other formats including O’Connor’s “Ancient Wisdom and Modern Love” available not only through Web video but also iTunes Video, and Yale Professor Robert Wyman’s “Global Problems of Population Growth” available via YouTube, iTunes, iTunes Audio and as a download course. Other formats include MP3s, feed and stream.
    An exciting and incredible amount of knowledge is out there, just a click or two away.

Published: August 20, 2011
Issue: Fall 2011 Issue