There are certain times of year when you may start to feel a hunger for knowledge. Maybe it’s in the spring, when the weather warms and you find yourself wanting something more out of your days than your plain old routine. Or perhaps it happens to you in September, when the lure of a freshly sharpened pencil still gets under your skin and school buses run through your neighborhood once again.
Does this sound familiar to you? If so, you might be suffering from educational withdrawal.
If it’s a been a while since you sat in a classroom, you’re not alone. Yet many people find themselves longing to keep learning and acquiring new life skills. It keeps you sharp, and diving into a new project or interesting subject will certainly improve your cocktail party conversation!
Whether you’re hungry for more knowledge or interested in furthering your career, learning something new doesn’t always mean paying tuition and enrolling as a full-time student. In fact, your options for continuing education have never been better—or more affordable! From attending conferences and seminars to learning through entertainment, here are some ways for you to further your education without breaking the bank.
Who Can Benefit from Continuing Education?
You can! Seriously, just about anyone can get something out of furthering his or her education—if you find a learning option that fits your schedule, budget and interests.
- Retirees: Stay on top of the latest computer technology to keep in touch with distant relatives or enjoy the convenience of the internet. Learn a new sport or other skill to stay active and healthy, or take advantage of your new-found freedom to explore a subject you’ve always been interested in. There are so many options out there for you!
- Parents: Whether you’ve been out of the workforce caring for children or are trying to juggle it all and still get ahead, today’s professional development options don’t require committing to a full degree program. You can also enjoy courses for parents to better understand your child, the educational system and more.
- Career Go-Getters: Looking to make a better case for that next raise? Want to make a career change and dive into a whole new field? You can make yourself indispensable to your boss and add to your resume by seeking out coursework that builds your business skills.
- Hobbyists: Continuing education isn’t just about sitting in a classroom or hitting the books. There are also loads of opportunities to pick up new life skills like gardening, beekeeping, salsa dancing and more. You could even invest in a portable keyboard and sign up for those piano lessons you wish you had appreciated when you were a kid!
Affordable Options to Keep on Learning
(Image via Ken Schulze)
Not sure where to start on your learning journey? You don’t have to enroll as a full- or even part-time student if you’re not interested. Try these ideas as a jumping off point for researching similar opportunities near you.
Continuing Education Courses
Most community colleges and many local universities have a continuing education program designed to offer courses to non-traditional learners. These are offered as one-offs, and you don’t need to enroll or pay big-time tuition to take part. It’s a great way to dip your toe back into academia, learn a new language or explore an interesting subject. You can also seek out specialty courses that teach hobbies and new skills as well.
Online education has come a long way in the past decade, and you can now take a class on virtually any subject from the comfort of your own home—and with the convenience of your own schedule. EdX offers free classes taught by professors from world-class universities, while Coursera has low-cost options for both work and pleasure.
Conferences and Seminars
Depending on your interests, you can attend a conference to learn more about your field. These events are industry-specific and have a reputation for being all about networking, but the meat of any conference is its list of speakers and break-out sessions. These are really just bite-sized courses that offer the most up-to-date information in the field, so it’s a great way to stay sharp. Seminars are similar but don’t come with all the trappings of a big conference—you might be able to find a topic you love offered by your local chamber of commerce or hosted by your community’s property management company.
Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Network is a great choice for retirees and anyone over 50 looking to stretch their brains. It’s a membership-based program that partners with local colleges to offer high-level courses—without the tuition bill. Speakers who work with the program can also come to residential communities to deliver lessons and seminars, so if you live in an active adult community that sponsors events, this is one that’s definitely worthwhile.
National Park Programs
The National Park Service offers lifetime passes to seniors age 62 and above that provides free entry to all National Parks as well as a range of federal lands and participating state programs. Once you get in, head directly to the ranger’s station for a list of programs and classes that you can take. These are offered at no additional cost and cover a wide range of environmental and historical topics.
Clubs and Service Organizations
If you’re interested in honing a particular set of skills, consider joining a group of like-minded people in your community. This could be a local gardening club, a volunteer organization or your local chamber of commerce. There are also service clubs to choose from, like the Junior League, Lions or Rotary club. These groups often bring in speakers and host learning events of interest to their members.
It may take a little research to find out what’s available in your area, so check out the internet and community events section of your local newspaper or head to your neighborhood library to get started. Once you find something you’re interested in, sign up! Continuing to learn and build skills will open your mind to lots of innovative ideas, and you’ll also meet new friends and neighbors along the way. You’ll keep your mind sharp and re-ignite the joy of trying something new—and all of this will lead to a happier, healthier you.