If I were loaded, I’d be in school forever, getting more degrees in art history, literature and folklore. I want to know more about the House of Habsburg, or about how local legends manifest in regional practices, or about the evolution of human-to-computer interaction.
While a lifetime of gathering degrees is next to impossible without a trust fund or a Euro- Millions win, some alternatives require a lot less of your money, energy, and time: online classes. This isn’t about spending every minute of your life bettering yourself so you can move up the career ladder or make more money. Simply learning for the sheer joy of it is a worth while project — and an excellent way to pass the time. It’s a way to keep the despair of coronavirus crisis at bay.
Research has shown that learning, in general, is good for you, and the impact of online education on the mental well-being of adults older than 55 found that taking online classes improved the well-being and healthy cognitive aging of participants. Learning a new skill engages working and long-term memory better than, say, sudoku. You don’t need to be reading Foucault or taking a class in astrophysics to engage and improve your brain.
You don’t have to be older than 55 to reap the benefits of taking a class, either; learning is good for all brains, regardless of age. But more pertinent learning is good for your mental health. Reading has been shown to reduce stress levels, and participating in lifelong learning contributes to the ability to cope with symptoms of mental illness and stress, including stress from the onset of chronic illness or disability; improved self-esteem; a sense of hope and purpose; and self-efficacy.
Disclaimer: you need to be learning about topics they’re genuinely interested in. As much as I would love to be better at maths, years of avoiding Excel and budgets means that might not be the most stress-relieving option for me.
So what class should you take? Maybe a Masterclass in Mexican cooking taught by Contramar chef Gabriela Cámara? If you want more hands-on stuff, Coursera or Open University might be for you. The platforms offers thousands of classes ranging from Guitar for Beginners to Dog Emotion and Cognition.
Courseroot is a great option, it aggregates and ranks the best online courses. You can filter through +50.000 online courses based on level of difficulty, price, hours of content, and certificate quality. Currently integrated are Coursera, edX, Udacity, Futurelearn, Khan Academy, Udemy, Springboard, and Skillshare.
You don’t have to take an actual class, though. With a little bit of research, you can devise your own curriculum dedicated to, well, whatever you want. Let’s say you want to learn about Eleanor of Aquitaine
You could start with a bite-sized introduction to the topic, such as the podcast You’re Dead To Me’s episode about Eleanor. Reinforce your knowledge about her in Mike Walker’s BBC Radio 4 series Plantagenet or the 1968 film The Lion in Winter, Eleanor is played by Katharine Hepburn, who won the third of her four Academy Awards for Best Actress for her portrayal. Basics covered, it’s time to move in on the details. Eleanor of Aquitaine Series by Elizabeth Chadwick. Finally, BOOM, you’re an expert.
You can do this with pretty much anything.
Learning is one coping mechanism among many. Maybe you prefer going on long runs (GOOD FOR YOU). Or maybe you’re considering giving Marienbad My Love a go? But if you’re one of many whose hours, once filled with friends, cafes and the wonderful outdoors, are now gaping holes of nothing to do, I urge you to consider a class, whether it’s someone else’s or one of your own design. There’s power in knowledge and there’s also comfort, confidence and joy.