Ah, the internet. In this day and age, we can access almost any kind of information at any time if we know where and how to look. Without some guidance, however, the web can sometimes feel like a vast, overwhelming expanse of information overload. For my part, then, here’s a list of five of my favourite free resources for mining knowledge online.
I & II.
Memrise and Duolingo are two of the best free resources I’ve come across for learning a new language. They’re both highly visual, interactive learning platforms with bright, user-friendly interfaces. They both have apps. And while there’s certainly a lot of overlap between the two, I’ve personally found Memrise to be more helpful in learning vocabulary and Duolingo in learning grammar and sentence structure. For me, using them in conjunction with one another is ideal.
Memrise courses are generated by its community. It uses virtual flashcards and mnemonics crowdsourced from its users to provide courses in over 200 languages. You can choose to start beginner, intermediate, or advanced courses. It claims to adapt to your learning style, utilising the spacing effect to quiz you on what you’ve learned at intervals that are designed to optimise memory retention.
With Duolingo, you can choose to start with the basics or take a placement test before you begin a language course. Like Memrise, it allows you to see words and phrases spelled out with their translations, in addition to providing audio pronunciations for each example. My favourite thing about it, however, is that it provides a set of usage notes at the beginning of each module–the difference between masculine and feminine nouns or notes on verb tense usage, for example.
Wolfram Alpha is a computational knowledge engine, as they call it. It’s absolutely incredible what this thing can do. Unlike a search engine, it computes answers “based on a vast collection of built-in data, algorithms, and methods” rather than merely searching the web for them. Its stated goal is “to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone.” A search engine simply indexes web pages and then provides a list of links with textual matches to your initial query. Wolfram Alpha, on the other hand, “uses built-in knowledge curated by human experts to compute on the fly a specific answer and analysis for every query.”
It allows for free-form, natural language input.
You can change the assumptions about your input before your results are computed. The site’s virtual tour uses the search term orange as an example. If you type orange into the input box, Wolfram Alpha will ask whether you’re referring to a colour, a fruit, a city, a movie, a financial entity, etc.
If necessary, it will provide formulas and calculators for you to fill in with your own values in order to compute your results.
It provides definitions, background, and reference/source material for the information provided in your results.
You can can save queries and lock in settings like your preferred system of units, country, etc.
It recommends related queries.
Long story short: this is an awesome, powerful resource.
Coursera offers free online courses from top universities around the world, using principles from educational psychology to structure the delivery of course material. You can complete courses on everything from the arts to the life sciences to economics through combinations of reading lists, video lectures, interactive quizzes, and peer-graded assessments. It also provides the opportunity to connect with a huge community of other learners and instructors. Shout out to the exceptional collection of courses offered by the University of Edinburgh, with more due to be released in the coming months!
N.B.–I still love iTunes U, especially when I want to listen to a course’s audio content on the go. I find Coursera to be way more interactive, however, which I prefer when I’m hanging out at home.
Now, go learn something!