Help Me Find Self-Education Resources

I’ve received a number of e-mails from fellow students frustrated with the formal education process. Frankly, I agree with them. Universities are expensive, inefficient and often waste time teaching topics that students don’t need to learn. Self-education is a useful alternative, but I’ve found it isn’t always as easy as it should be. Finding where to start the learning process can require a fair bit of searching, and often books try to sell hype rather than teach the fundamentals.

I’d like to collect resources you have for self-education. To qualify I’m looking for products, services and resources that:

  • Teach a subject, or facilitate learning (e.g. an online portal that compares different self education products)
  • Is free or relatively inexpensive
  • Reputable and reliable. (I’m looking for self-education programs that represent the type of subjects you could learn at a school, not get-rich-quick tutorials)

If you know of any good self-education programs, books, portals or resources, I invite you to suggest them to me either in the comments or by e-mailing it to

If I get a large enough volume of suggestions, I’ll try compiling them into a post as a resource for myself and other self-learners.

  • James

    One great source that I have found is

    They have many different subjects, and several E-Books available.

  • Mary

    I know many universities offer free classes online. Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative has science, logic and language classes, among others, that you can sign up for free of charge. They are completely online, too, which is convenient.

    Additionally, there are millions of free e-courses you can find online in whatever subject appeals to you. These are not tracked and graded or anything, but they are an opportunity to find out if you want to pursue a particular interest further.

    In this case, I feel Google is a person’s best friend. Search for “Free e-course in ____” or similar to find out what’s out there.

  • Grover

    This is exactly what our new website is dedicated too. To start the list of resources, try

    You have some good ideas and I hope you join our community.

  • Marina @ Sufficient Thrust

    I keep track of links of this nature here:

  • Scott

    This may not be what you were looking for, but I think that fiction is an invaluable source of education in discovering the philosophy of different topics. Discovering this philosophy makes the difference between merely coming across something or inherently understanding it, and finding the right author can make a world of difference. For example, my favorite author if Ayn Rand, whose Atlas Shrugged gave me a very different insight into the realm of productivity and the motivation one connects to the work they do. Reading this has inspired me to work harder!

    I’m sure you are searching for didactic online resources, so it’s a little broad of a question, and I would be interested to see what your readers can come up with. You can read about any topic online, but to find resources online that can use innovative tools to teach would be highly beneficial.

  • Kali

    I’ve found the “teach yourself” books by mcgraw-hill quite helpful. I got three of them for a discounted price at Chapters, and some subjects are also available at your local library.

  • Fern R

    I used to work for this company: CyberU. Basically, at the individual or small business level, CyberU allows people to find online training/education opportunities. They partner with online learning providers and basically make it easy to find good quality classes. They also have a large corporation component that I think they spun off into its own site a few years ago.

  • An

    I agree with Mary above – I know that there are open uni courses for MIT:

    Here’s the website for some of the other unis:

    I often find basic reference books or webpages like Wikipedia or “XXXXXX for Dummies” book series a good starting point, but I’d suggest tapping into your public library network, and search for some of the online journal database for more specific information.

  • Goal Setting College

    Scott, What a coincidence! I wrote an article The Complete Guide To Finding & Learning Something New Onlinecompiling all the self education resources I found. I hope you don’t mind the reference to the article.

    See if that helps!


  • Niels

    OCW (open course ware) is a good keyword for the stuff you’re describing.

  • Diego

    Scott, I have nothing against self-education or your statement that universities force students into courses they “don’t need”, per se, but a student is a student because they are trying to learn something. Teacher’s and schools build curriculae to get the student to their goals. Generally speaking a student hasn’t the expertise to decide what is necessary for them to acheive; that is why there are teachers and schools.

  • Mary

    Diego, I agree with you, to a point. But as an older learner, often I just want to explore a subject in a more structured environment than just browsing Google. These free self-education opportunities allow people like me to do just that without the pressure inherent in a degree program.

    But, yes, traditional schools provide and require the array of classes they do because it offers students a sampling of ideas and information outside of their particular course of study. This can be a wonderful resource later on. Some of these seemingly unnecessary classes also are geared toward building thinking skills that other classes do not. For instance, algebra helps develop abstract thinking skills, as well as mathematical knowledge. No matter what field a person is in, being able to think outside of the concrete is helpful in fleshing out ideas and setting goals.

    Scott, I love your blog and read every post. I think, even when I don’t agree with you, that it is wonderful to be exposed to other ideas and ways of thinking. Thank you.

  • jd

    Learning How to Learn
    I think the key to self-education is mastering the learning process … with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that these are the keys:
    * Ask better questions. Thinking is asking and answering questions. Ask better questions to get better answers.
    * Learn critical thinking techniques. You don’t learn the best techniques in school. I’ll post on these in the future.
    * Framing out domains. Slicing and dicing a problem space is one of the best ways for rapid, deep learning. Here’s a concrete example (web app security
    * Learn Mind Techniques. For example, study an imagineer like Michael Michalko.
    * Learn how you learn. Are you more audio, visual, or Kinesthetic? Do you prefer inductive or deductive? Do you learn by studying or doing?
    * Visualizing information. Mastering Mind Maps and other types of maps can go a long way.

    * How Learning works – I like this particular portal for learning how learning works –
    * Learning Space – Create a “Learning Space” and learn with others online –
    * Cool Cat Teacher – Learn from a teacher who’s an “edublogger” – http://coolcatteacher.blogspot

  • Gerard

    J.J. Luna has a very well-received book about skipping college all together.
    I own it and it is chock full of great information.

  • Jay, writer

    Never underestimate the power of self-help and self-learning. A lot of people may think that formal education is overrated. Personally, I maintain the to each his own attitude. In today’s world, the measure of your worth depends on the opportunities you seize and what you make of them.

  • Ludwik C. Siadlak

    Scott, Mary is right – many Universities has free online courses – here’s a comprehensive list you should find useful:
    Universities with the Best Free Online Courses.


  • Scott Young

    Thanks everyone!

    I’ve been offline for the entire week, so it will take some time to sort through all of these great links.


  • Scott Young

    As for formal education, I don’t believe it is all bad. I think a mix of formal and self education is probably the best approach. Formal education is expensive and slow, but it is structured. Self-education is quick and easy to customize, but it can leave missing gaps in knowledge and it is harder to pull off.

  • graham

    As a counterpoint, have you considered that often the most significant benefit of formal education is not technical information, but rather the peers and professional network you establish by participating in a formalized program? Even just the commitment to go full time and be “part” of something can be a huge boon for productivity and self-identity, as well as the aforementioned connections. It takes you into a world of like-minded individuals who shape your perceptions of the world through interaction and conversation much more than simply reading textbook information ever could. I definitely applaud self-learning, but I would hesitate to recommend it as a completely equal and viable alternative to former education. If anything, I would recommend formal education as a way to get on track, and self-learning as the means to keep the momentum going.

  • Schuyler
  • Ruth

    Put someone you love through school. It’s amazing how much interest you take in textbooks, the syllabus, the quality of the teaching when you are footing the bill. While I was pretty laid back about my education, I was passionately interested in my husband’s courses and in the courses my children chose when they were at home. It’s a bit more difficult when in different cities but nonetheless what they are studying is still a prime topic of conversation.

  • mike3

    “Formal education is expensive and slow, but it is structured. “

    And if your family does not HAVE the money to pay, then what? Are you so out of luck?

    “Put someone you love through school. It&#8217s amazing how much interest you take in textbooks, the syllabus, the quality of the teaching when you are footing the bill.”

    And what happens when you CAN’T foot that bill?

  • Scott Young


    Not everyone can afford formal education, true. But don’t let that stop you.

    Self-education on the internet is a powerful substitute. Public libraries are free. The only person that can stop you from educating yourself is you.