Salman Khan, Founder of Khan Academy
I read James Gleick's biography Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman last fall and enjoyed every page, but was unsettled to find that a lot of the physics discussed in the book was way over my head. Either I had forgotten a lot of what I'd learned, or I'd never learned it in the first place.
Last week I read Charles Seife's book Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea and came away with the same experience. Zero is about the origination of, and response over history to, the number zero. It is an elegant, witty, and enlightening book but, the mathematical concepts used were often hard for me to understand. I came away feeling a little doofus-like.
Rather than accept that entirely negative status, I decided to bone up on science and math and began checking out on-line study resources. The best one I found--and it is a great one--is the Khan Academy, an entirely free, comprehensive, and easy to use resource for self directed study.
The Khan Academy isn't a secret. It has been featured on 60 Minutes and has earned multi-million dollar support from the Gates Foundation but, like many people, I thought it was a resource designed primarily for children. It isn't: course work starts at the pre-school level and works its way up--and you work your way up--to graduate level material that is comprehensive, thorough, and taught by some of the best educators in the business.
Founded in 2006 by Bangladeshi-American educator Salman Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School, the Khan Academy's mission is "to provide a high quality education to anyone, anywhere." Entirely internet based, the Academy's website supplies an online collection of more than 3,600 micro lectures via video tutorials stored on YouTube teaching mathematics, history, healthcare and medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, economics, cosmology, organic chemistry, American civics, art history, macroeconomics, microeconomics, and computer science. Since September 2012, Khan Academy has delivered over 227 million lessons--all free.
My personal experience as a Khan Academy student has been really good. Enrollment took only a minute and there is no registration for classes. After enrolling, go to the site's about page and learn how to design a custom, self-paced approach to learning about--or mastering--a particular subject. Since I was interested in math I went to the "Watch" tab and pulled down course work for Linear Algebra.
I quickly found out--by watching video lectures on the subject and taking a few tests--that I had been over confident about my existing mathematical abilities and needed to brush up with some mid level work. No problem: I started a calculus class and a class on differential equations and, again by watching video lectures and taking frequent progress tests, I'm on my way to engaging Linear Algebra.
My interest is mainly in physics and, secondarily, in math, but there is a multitude of subjects in the humanities for students interested in history, art, politics, or in applied areas such as "how to design a website." If you are simply interested in learning, rather than in earning a degree or certificate, it is worth your while to check out this fascinating and entirely free resource.