Free Online Learning Opportunities and New Year’s Resolutions

English: The Oval, Stanford University, Stanfo...

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We are so fortunate to live in our current times of free online learning opportunities that our only excuse for not furthering ourselves is laziness. I wrote a couple posts about New Year’s resolutions: picking synergistic New Year’s Resolutions and share or keep private your New Year’s Resolutions, so I figured I should step up and discuss my resolutions relating to furthering my own education, beyond my Phd, along with sharing with you a few of the free online opportunities that exists that all of you should be grabbing for yourself. There are fare less reasons for excuses anymore. Your location doesn’t matter, and it won’t even cost you any money.

I believe one should always be learning, and so my resolutions included taking some entrepreneur courses to help me prepare for my startup idea, and a year long online programming course.

Free Education from the Leading Universities.

I am interested in founding my own startup so I searched to see what courses were available out there. I imagined I would have to travel to the startup hubs of Silicon Valley, Boston, or such other such hubs. But on google+ multiple people linked to the free online courses being offered by Stanford University and MIT. I jumped at the opportunity – I would be crazy not to.

Here are 16 free courses offered by Stanford in 2012. I have signed up for the Lean launchPad course taught by the well known startup guru Steve Blank. I also signed up for the Technology Entrepreneurship class. How much are these classes worth if you had to pay for them, not to mention moving to Palo Alto and living there? You can imagine.

And we are able to take these courses from anywhere in the world – you don’t have to be living in the high-cost of living location of Silicon valley. I will be taking these courses from Riga Latvia, as I can take advantage of a little geoarbritraging, where I am currently living as I travel around the world.

Stanford is not the only university that are offering such free courses, another leading example is MIT (among many others). And a new initiative offered in the spring of 2012 by MIT are the MITx courses (taking a page from TEDx), where you can even get certificates/credits for the courses, for a ‘modest’ fee, but the exact details are still being worked out.

Learning to Program for Free Online (complete with a bit of gamification)

I learned to program quite a few years ago but with my interests in forming a startup I figured I should learn the modern programming language of javascript. With the advent of HTML5 the ability to develop once and have cross platform capability is very impressive, and efficient. While I have been reading a couple HTML5/javascript books I decided to take the New Year’s challenge and sign up for ‘Code Year‘, over at Codecademy.

I like the idea of them sending you a weekly email pointing me to my lessons. Not only does this give you a friendly reminder, but it shells out digestible amounts of information so it does’t become overwhelming. But this morning with my first email from codeademy I dove in and got a week worth of lessons done in about an hour. Codecademy makes it easy to learn coding since you code in the codecademy site. So a person new to coding doesn’t have to worry about some of the technicalities such as having a convenient text editor or javascript (even though javascript is built into most browsers). It removes a couple small barriers but this gets you started right away, and we all know that removing any barriers improves the likelihood people will do anything – be it exercise or learning. And judging from the first set of lessons codeademy gives you baby steps to get you started in programming, and I found it enjoyable, and got started learning javascript. There is even some gamification as you earn points and trophies as you progress through the lessons.

Startup Opportunities

Codeacdemy is a startup itself, and I think has a bright future. And speaking of startup it is crazy how many opportunities there are for people interested in founding their own startup. Just go take a look at the list of startup incubators over at Startup Weekend. There are over 60 of them listed for USA, and plenty of other ones all over the world. A plethora of opportunities to get guidance and funding. Now obviously it is very competitive to get into the best of these incubators, but the opportunity is there.

No Money – What about Kickstarter?

Beyond having the educational opportunities the other stumbling block mentioned often is no startup money, but kickstarter can help solve this problem. Kickstarter is a ‘new way to fund and follow your creativity’, or as described on wiki: “Kickstarter is an online threshold pledge system for funding creative projects”.  Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor or Wired, talked about how kickstarter has been transformational in a google+ post:

There is a small revival of small-time manufacturing. Highly transparent information about where to find niche producers (globally), plus techniques for operating shorter runs (small scale), plus crowd-sourced funding (quicker, smaller sums), plus viral marketing equals DIY manufacturing.

But it is not just physically built projects that kickstart funds, for it can be used to raise starting funds for movies, webseries, books, music, comics, etc. There is a nice year in review write up of 2011 in Kickstart land.

Here is one example of kickstarter project of using telepresence robotics to help the disabled, which has already raised over 10,000 dollars. There are just so many opportunities here to do projects that are very difficult to raise funds for using more traditional methods.

Kickstarter Update:

The amount of pledging in 2011 was just shy of 100 million dollars ($ 99,344,382) ! Extremely impressive. And here is a very inspiring story of the use of kickstarter from crowdsourcing:

Vlach had (and still has) two options: fit a wireless webcam into her eye, or wait for a new generation of cameras that could be connected directly to the brain. She chose the former and, last June, launched an appeal on the Kickstarter crowdfunding site to raise $15,000 (£9,300) to develop an eyecam that could be installed inside her prosthesis. By the beginning of August, thanks to donations from more than 300 people, she had raised almost $20,000 for her project.

In Summary:

So personally I am taking advantage of the great opportunity to grab great education for leading teachers from Standford University to learn more about being an technology entrepreneur and running a successful lean startup. Additionally, as part of my New Year’s resolution I learning/relearning how to program.

What about you – what opportunities are you going to take advantage of: a kickstarter project, apply to a startup incubator, learn how to program, take a free online University course?

Right now there are so many opportunities over a wide range of subjects, in which I only touched on a few here. We no longer have excuses of I don’t live in the right place, I don’t have enough money. Now it just take the willingness to take the initiative.

I encourage you to make a start at something – just take the first step and get started.



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