Among my favorite nuggets of wisdom is a saying widely attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever.”  It’s a simple directive, yet it’s absolutely loaded with significance.  Live as if you were to die tomorrow, because life is precious, fleeting, and filled with meaning.  And learn as if you were to live forever, because, as Socrates observed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

The process of self-education is an exciting and empowering endeavor – and best of all, it’s a lifelong undertaking that’s accessible to each and every one of us.  Whatever your financial status or social standing, you’re within reach of myriad tools, venues, and programs that promise to broaden your horizons at little to no cost to you.  Start locally in your search for such educational outlets; then, as needed, expand your search to the virtual world, where resources are practically limitless.

First, think local. 

  1. Head to the public library. This is an obvious suggestion, perhaps, but it’s always worth repeating: books are your best friends when it comes to self-education.  And the ideal place to find books at no cost is your local library.  What’s more, modern libraries offer far more than hardcovers and paperbacks.  Nowadays, libraries feature various forms of media that open the door to seemingly infinite information.  Many will also bring in speakers, offer classes, and curate a number of other services that cater to your educational needs.

  2. Become a member at a local museum. Museums are a wonderful alternative to costlier entertainment – and even better, they allow you to learn a lot!  Much like today’s libraries, museums now offer a range of educational tools, from interactive exhibits to topical lectures.  Many museums offer virtual tours and exhibits, as well, giving you extra bang for your buck.

  3. Explore your employer’s education incentives. Ask your superior if your workplace provides any post-secondary perks like tuition reimbursement.  Also, see if your organization might be receptive to the idea of inviting local industry leaders – both in and outside of your field – to come and present their professional expertise from time to time.

  4. If you have the time and wherewithal, look for an internship. While many internships are unpaid, they can be an outstanding way to gain experience in and exposure to a field that you find intriguing.  Make the most of your time by working to pinpoint and hone skills that need development.

  5. Contribute to a community organization. Look at the philanthropic landscape in your area and identify a nonprofit with which your passions and interests are aligned.  As you serve, work to deepen your knowledge of the cause of which you’re a part.  Then use this knowledge to think of innovative solutions that might help the organization to meet its aims more efficiently, thoroughly, and enduringly.

  6. Learn from your little ones. When your kids get home from school, pick their brains on what they’ve absorbed after a day of instruction.  This will help you simultaneously to refresh your memory of subjects you’ve studied before and to acquire new understanding of topics with which you’re unfamiliar.  And in the process, your children’s comprehension and retention will benefit from the re-teaching process.

  7. Find opportunities to teach. Ask around at organizations of which you’re a part – your church, Rotary Club, Junior League, etc. – and see if they would be interested in hosting a class, led by you!  Flex your professional savvy while strengthening your connections and refining your understanding of your craft.

  8. Consider spending your retirement years in a college town. This one requires a more drastic commitment, but if you have the flexibility and the desire to do so, plan to relocate to one of these educational hubs.  Depending on where you settle, your cost of living could be minimal relative to the many cultural and artistic offerings that colleges tend to attract.

  9. Pursue aid for any post-graduate study. You may desire to educate yourself in the context of a degree program.  If that’s the case, do your homework to find low-interest loans, institutional and independent scholarships, and educational grants to help cover the cost of your additional schooling.

Then, go virtual.

  1. Hunt for online courses specific to your area of interest. There are countless, reputable higher-ed institutions that now offer virtual classes at no cost.  Their selections feature a huge assortment of disciplines spanning the arts, humanities, and sciences.  And they often permit you to take the courses at your own pace, so that you’re able to configure your study around your busy schedule.

  2. Refine your YouTube tastes. Instead of spending hours browsing mindless videos, turn your attention to more edifying channels.  There’s no limit to the amount of solid educational content that you can find on YouTube.  All within the matter of an hour, you can view a This Old House video detailing how to install a kitchen sink and then hop over to a Kahn Academy clip describing a complex mathematical concept.

  3. Learn a language as you watch. If you’re a fan of TV and film, find a foreign flick that allows you to turn on the subtitles and follow along.  This is a simple and entertaining way to introduce yourself to a new language or to refresh your memory of one that you have studied before.

There truly is an endless amount to learn.  Although we may never even scratch the surface, we can be sure that as lifelong learners, fresh insights and exciting discoveries are around every corner.  And the icing on the cake is – they don’t have to break the bank!