Education Alternatives: Free & Low Cost

Free & Low Cost Education AlternativesYou may be in a career that you love and want to enhance your skills to advance, or just keep your job (in today’s economy). You may want to change career paths all together (you hear of highly stressed corporate executives that go back to school to become a chef). Or, you may want to venture into a side business by enhancing a skill that is currently a hobby and earn extra cash with something you love (maybe photography or writing is your passion).

Enhancing the skills you already have and gaining new ones can only help you in your future career and you may even enjoy learning something new along the way. While some careers are better developed through formal degrees and/or certifications, there are also free and low cost alternatives for many career paths.


Staying in your current career path:

In your current career path, is there a certification that would make you more valuable to your current employer or marketable in your field? This is valuable in IT jobs and project management field, for example. Often in fields that change rapidly, a new or updated certification will show that you have been able to “keep up with the times”.

Have you thought of perusing a degree or advanced degree in your field? Although this endeavor can prove rather expensive, in many cases it will pay off in the future. If you are already well established in your field, staying current may be less expensive with a conference or course covering a new topic or one you are less familiar with. Showing that you have put an effort into learning something new will appeal to (and if often required by) many employers.


Seeking a new career path:

Are you still passionate about a career path you chose many years ago? Did you ended up in a career that no longer has the future you once expected? Learning a new career that interests you may be a security measure that would be smart in your situation. You may want to consider paths that are similar to your current career, but are more in demand at the present time. On the other hand, you may be interested in a completely different path. There are situations where even with less salary, a career path is appealing for other reasons (less stress, location, etc.). Consider all your options, and then decide if the demand and prospective income in that field is what you are looking for.


Starting a side job:

Are you a baker? Have you thought of making cakes or pies to sell? Maybe a side photography business is more your style. Have you thought about earning a little extra cash by fixing or upgrading your friends and neighbor’s computers? Maybe you enjoy writing and starting a blog is something that would appeal to you. Have you ever thought of tutoring kids after school? There are many options to earn a little cash on the side while doing what you enjoy as a hobby.

We can all improve our skills and learn something new. Some skills require a lot of practice. Often it is additionally helpful (even for the most proficient) to get input or a different point of view from someone else. Highly skilled surgeons still attend conferences to learn new techniques and find out about new scientific findings. Famous TV chefs are able to learn new skills and techniques from their peers. Artists are always perfecting and enhancing their skills. And, IT professionals always have something new to learn, given their quickly changing profession.


Free and lower priced learning options:

We are familiar with higher learning options; consisting of colleges, universities and technical school. In some fields these may be the best or even only alternative for increasing some skills (especially when degrees are required). On the other hand, there are also lower priced and even free options available to further your skills.



creativeLive offers online video courses, with the main categories including: photography, business, software, design, video & film, audio and lifestyle. The courses typically last between 1 to 3 days each, and are held from 9am to 4pm PST. I took one of their 3 day courses on photography and was very impressed with the quality of the instruction, content and the overall class.

Costs: The courses are free to watch if you are able to watch them live, during the filming. They are then available to download for a fee after the course ends. The fee does vary depending on the course and course length. If this is something that you are interested in, there is usually a discount during the live course and I have seen sales on the classes at other times as well.


The Great Courses:

Although most of these courses are more on the personal enhancement category, there are some videos that could help enhance your career or side career. The courses are available in DVD, downloadable video and audio. The categories of courses include: Science & Mathematics, History, Fine Arts & Music, Religion & Theology, Philosophy & Intellectual History, Literature & English Language, Business & Economics, Better Living, Professional and High School. I have viewed a few of these courses and have been happy with the quality of instruction and content of them.

In a recent interview with Bill Gates on 60 Minutes, he showed his extensive library of The Great Courses DVDs. I believe this shows that even someone I think of as highly educated and successful, still desires to continue learning. Maybe this desire is one reason he’s so successful.

Costs: The cost of The Great Courses also varies greatly. DVDs that are mailed to you are the most expensive, downloadable videos are less expensive and the audio versions are even less expensive (if available). There are also frequently sales on the courses, so keep your eyes open if one of the courses interests you. Additionally, I was able to find the audio versions much less expensive if you download them from . The down side to this lower price is that you only have the audio version as an option and no supplemental books are included. In some cases this may be a good option, for other courses you may prefer a video version with supplemental printed materials.



Coursera is another online presence that seeks to provide higher education alternatives for free. The courses are offered through highly respected Universities worldwide. The wide range of course topics include: Arts, Biology & Life Sciences, Business & Management, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics & Finance, Education, Energy & Earth Sciences, Engineering, Food & Nutrition, Healthy & Society, Humanities, Information (Tech & Design), Law, Mathematics, Medicine, Music/Film/Audio, Physical & Earth Sciences, Physics, Social Sciences, Statistics & Data Analysis and Teacher Professional Development.

Many of these courses offer a certificate of completion from a Universities worldwide. Although these certificates are not a college degree, there have been individuals hired into new career fields showing theses certificates as proof of their desire to continue learning and content completion.

In addition to the free courses, some of the courses are available as “Signature Track”. When you sign up for a course with this option, there is a small fee (compared to a typical college course) and the certificate provides official recognition for the providing university and Coursera, which can be verified electronically. The Signature Track Certificate is meant to be a level of proof above the typical certificate of completion. This certificate includes your grade, syllabus and workload along with a personal URL on Coursera that you can share with a prospective or current employer.

Costs: All courses can be taken for free. Some of the courses give you the option to register as “Signature Track” for a small fee (varies depending on the course).


Khan Academy:

Khan Academy was created by Salman Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School, who has a vision of providing an education to everyone worldwide, free of cost. These high quality videos, stored on YouTube, have provided just that. The non-profit organization is also backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google. The categories of courses include: Math, Science, Economics & Finance, Humanities and Computer Programming. If you are interested in furthering your education in any of these categories, give Khan Academy a look. They are a great option for students, parents and educations.

Costs: Free


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