15 Free Ways to Learn Something New

If you're still paying off your student loans (or soon will be), learning might feel like more of a chore than fun. The good news is that learning can be fun and free. Below is a list of 15 ways to learn something new at no cost. So take a look, go forth, and expand your mind! (See also: 20 Great Frugal Skills — and How to Get Them)

1. Lowe’s and Home Depot Classes

Both home improvement headquarters offer free classes. Past classes at Home Depot have included lawn maintenance and bathroom workshops, and Lowe’s has partnered with Habitat for Humanity for Women Build — clinics dedicated to teaching women home improvement tips and tricks. Lowe’s also has a Build and Grow clinic geared toward kids. Check out your local store to see what they have coming up.

2. Grocery and Kitchen Store Classes

If you’re anywhere near a Williams-Sonoma, you’ll have the most options. They offer complimentary technique classes for everything from knife skills to braising. Of course, they’re trying to sell you a product, but you’re still going to learn something. Oh, and you’ll get a 10% discount in-store the day of the class. As for other grocery and kitchen stores, ask the manager if they have any events coming up or check out their website. Most of Publix’s classes are at a cost, but they might have a few for free!

3. YouTube

YouTube is probably the easiest (but at times, the worst) place to learn on the Internet; people are really into YouTube tutorials nowadays. You can learn to play the ukulele, apply makeup, or sing like Lady Gaga, all in one convenient place. Of course, YouTube has its downsides (like if the person trying to teach you doesn't really know what they're talking about), but anything has to be better than Phoebe’s method of guitar lessons. And if you can't find something that strikes your fancy, just stay on the TEDTalks YouTube channel and let the ideas roll.

4. Foodie Sites

If you like to cook (or would like to like to cook), get on the internet and check out the bevy of free culinary classes. Head over to Allrecipes, Food Network (to learn from ole Alton sans cable), or Better Homes and Gardens (there are also decorating videos as well as food!). Epicurious has a pretty boss “cooking school” from the Culinary Institute of America, but after the first class, you have to pay. It is, however, a one-time fee, so if you’re passionate about being a better cook, it would be worth it. Try it out and see!

5. Coursera

Here’s the skinny on Coursera — two awesome Stanford computer science professors started this website with one specific goal in mind — education should be available to everyone for free. Classes are designed and taught by professors from Stanford, Princeton, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan. But this isn’t just a bunch of online lectures to watch (and potentially snooze through). These classes come with time restraints, a syllabus, homework, and in some cases, a certificate of completion. You’re not losing anything by not “attending,” but you’re gaining everything by not having to pay hundreds of dollars a month afterward.

6. edX

edX has courses from some of the Ivy League schools missing from Coursera — Harvard, Berkeley, and MIT.  Their classes are also free and online, and you get a certificate of completion for them. For fall 2012, there are seven courses offered, but bookmark the site if you can't find something you like right now. And in the meantime, the Harvard Extension School Open Learning Initiative has quite a few videos for learning at your leisure.

7. PechaKucha 20x20

PechaKucha’s premise is simple — 20 pictures, 20 seconds. The event started in Tokyo as a way for young designers to network, but it turned into a way for people around the world to learn from each other. Each speaker has almost seven minutes to tell a story, whether it be about a business or an adventure. Most events are free, and if there isn’t one in your area (most likely there is — they’re everywhere!) you have the option of either starting one or watching one of almost 500 presentations online.

8. Parks and Recreation Classes

No, I don’t mean my favorite show (although you could learn a bit about politics from Leslie Knope). I mean, of course, the best part of city government across the world. Classes range from identifying edible plants to arts and crafts to, well, recreation classes. Some do cost a small amount of money, but many are free.

9. Libraries

Libraries, of course, offer a wealth of information in the form of books, but most also offer courses. Turn to your local library and see what’s available, whether it be computer classes, basic life skills, or languages. 

10. Volunteering

When I was volunteering at a recent event, the director of the organization I was volunteering with said the best thing. Someone made a comment about not having anything to give away, and the director said, “Yes we do — knowledge!” And there you go — when you volunteer, you can learn something. A great example is Habitat for Humanity — you can help someone own their own home AND learn how to fix yours. There are also tons of community gardens when you can learn all about fruits and vegetables. Check out volunteer opportunities in your area, and learn something!

11. Podcasts

I never quite dipped into the land of podcasts before this year, but I tell you what — there are some very educational ones out there. From podcasts made by universities to podcasts made by public radio, there are multiple options to get your brain juices flowing. And if your brain needs a break, there are a ton of comedy podcasts. Check out the store section in iTunes, and get to downloading.

12. Skillsharing

From online to in-person, Skillshare is a website dedicated to just that — sharing skills. Unfortunately, not too many of the classes offered on the site are free, but they can be found.

13. Cuppings, Wine Tastings, and Beer Tastings

This is a very specific category. If you love consuming caffeinated or alcoholic beverages but aren’t sure what you’re talking about, be sure to go to the free cuppings, wine tastings, and beer tastings sometimes offered by local groceries, liquor stores, and coffee shops. While you’re there, ask every question you can think of.

14. From Your Family

A great, possibly untapped resource is your grandparents. Your grandfather probably changed his own oil, and your grandmother can probably sew up a storm. Take a minute to sit down with them and find out what they know. You’ll have a chance to learn something new and bond with a loved one.

15. From Your Friends

Along the same lines, tap into your friends! I recently hung out with an old roommate in North Carolina, and while we were waiting for a table at a restaurant, we ventured into a yarn store. She picked up an unfinished scarf and two needles and finished the row. I had no idea she was could knit — I could have learned so much while we were living together. Oh yeah, by the way, at Knitting Help, you can learn how to knit for free.

How do you learn for free?

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Guest's picture

Sometimes it is hard to wrap my mind around what a revelation YouTube has really been.. You can learn how to fix virtually anything in the world, just by watching a video. I have used Youtube to learn how to do everything from Pinewood Derby Cars, to installing base molding, to repairing a car, to fixing a computer...

Guest's picture

Great list! I have spent my life in education and having recently retired, I have the opportunity to continue in lifelong learning -- so this is especially timely for me. I expect I will continue to learn from you, too!

Guest's picture

If you want to learn for free more about subjects like entrepreneurship, motivation and human behaviour, Jeff Robinson’s blog is a must read. He is a very talented author and a straight forward thinker whose blog Contrarian’s Mind provides many great advice for entrepreneurs and a unique insight into his thoughts on both personal and professional relationships. Jeff Robinson’s blog posts can help you to stay focused on the important things in life and see things from a different, more spiritual perspective on the corporate environment. I highly recommend following his blog for motivation for personal and professional success.


Guest's picture

OK but where is Khan Academy??

Guest's picture

Youtube is seriously a sensation. You could learn almost anything you'd ever want to know through a video tutorial on YouTube. I've done a number of different exercise classes, as well as learn how to sew up a tear in clothes! I love that you included asking family and friends as well. Not only can your grandparents teach you about everyday skills, but they can certainly tell you a lot about history and so many other things- I love just listening to mine reminisce.

Guest's picture

Great list of resources. I especially enjoy the TED talks on YouTube. Both educational and inspiring.

Guest's picture

I really like MIT's free list of college courses and resources. The topic material is usually over my head, but the only way to learn is to immerse yourself in things that do not come easily. MIT's online classes fit that description perfectly.

I agree with Cinnamon, too - Khan Academy is a must-have on any list for free online learning. Sal's videos are superb.

Guest's picture

You Tube is an awesome resource to learn something new for free. I have watched videos on how to set up technology equipment, dancing, doing make up, and how to do my hair. I will be trying some of these other great suggestions for free resources to learn new things.

Sally Stretton