mom helping daughter on computerI remember being in high school and being so excited when school let out for the summer. I had reached the age where I had plans for my summer vacation. I was going to write a novel, design a video game, pen a web sitcom … The world was my oyster.

Inevitably, all these projects would fail by about the second week because I had trouble getting past about page 8 of the novel or sitcom because I hadn’t thought that far ahead about story structure. When it came to the video game, it was really hard to learn to code from a text-based web tutorial.

Eventually, it would just be easier to play a video game most of the day or surf the web. I just wasn’t equipped with the right resources to put my brain to use on the passion projects I had.

At the start of the next school year, teachers would spend two weeks reviewing with us because we hadn’t been engaged in learning over the summer. It was basically a matter of reversing the rot.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the past several years, technology on the web has moved forward leaps and bounds. Now, content creators are making rich, interactive lessons on almost any topic you desire to learn about. Let’s take a look at what’s out there.

General Education

Let’s start with sites that offer courses and information on a variety of topics.

YouTube

Maybe you’ve heard of it? Yes, that site with all the cat videos and Jimmy Fallon clips can also help you learn something.

With YouTube’s easy-to-use platform, teachers and experts in their fields are putting up high quality and engaging content on the site where students spend a lot of time. So how do you separate the good stuff from everything else across the vast YouTube content universe?

A YouTube feature many people don’t know exists is categories. One of those categories is education. You can filter by elementary and secondary, college or lifelong learning levels. Scrolling down the page also reveals a breakdown by subject.

One note of caution with YouTube. Because of the way the platform works, it could be very easy to click on the wrong video and go down an inappropriate rabbit hole. While no content filter is perfect and supervision is best, you can turn on safety controls found at the bottom of the page that are designed to prevent your child from seeing anything another user has flagged as potentially inappropriate.

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If your kids are younger, Google offers a specially curated YouTube Kids app for both Android and iOS. It’s targeted at children ages 5 and under.

Khan Academy

I absolutely love this site. A great thing about Khan Academy is their wide range of information. Their content is broken down by subject, and in some cases even grade by grade. It’s curated, high quality stuff.

They’ve also partnered with personalities like John Green, author of popular teen/young adult novels like “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Paper Towns.” Together with his brother Hank, the novelist does a series called “Crash Course” in which the duo covers world history, biology, ecology and chemistry topics in short, entertaining web videos. The site is also partnered with our very own Cavaliers forward LeBron James. In his “LeBron Asks” series, basic math and science concepts are taught through basketball.

MOOCs

One type of online learning model that’s gaining a lot of attention is the massive open online course (commonly referred to as a MOOC). The courses, which can be either self-paced or have set meeting times, cover all sorts of subjects. They enable people to take courses from Ivy League institutions and companies like Microsoft. There are courses aimed at students from elementary school to college graduates.

The MOOC hosting platforms all have similar types of course offerings and it’s a matter of finding the one that’s right for you. MOOC providers include edX and Future Learn.

iTunes U

If you have an iPhone or iPad, iTunes U may be right for you. It works much like the courses from the other providers mentioned above, but you can see included course textbooks, audio and video right on your device. The courses also include assignments and discussions.

Although the textbooks don’t work, you can view the audio and video through iTunes on Windows or Mac.

TED Talks

Want to hear some of the best 15- to 20-minute talks given by experts in their fields? You may want to check out TED Talks.

TED stands for technology, entertainment and design, but so many more topics are covered. The organization’s conferences bring together thought leaders from all over the world, and their lectures are posted online for anyone to view. This is definitely a website worth bookmarking.

Specialty Sites

There are a couple of specialty sites that work in specific learning areas. Here are some of the best:

Duolingo

Have you ever wanted to learn a language and found that the textbook just doesn’t work for you? Check out Duolingo. People in the U.S. can learn any one of 13 different languages. What’s especially cool about this site, though, is that it works across several different languages. For example, whether your native language is Czech or Chinese, you can use the site to learn English for free. The number of language courses available depends on your native language.

Each lesson includes vocabulary, speaking and grammar components delivered in bite-size, game-like chunks.

Code Academy

Is your child interested in learning how to make the computer do what they want or make their own game?

Code Academy is a browser-based tool that allows you to learn to program and see the results in side-by-side windows. This allows for real-time feedback. They can learn languages like HTML, JavaScript, PHP and Ruby on Rails in order to build websites and browser-based games. They’re walked through each lesson in a step-by-step fashion.

If you’re looking for more information, we covered this in a segment on our podcast as well.

Have you taken any online courses? What would you like to learn? Share with us in the comments.

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