am always amazed by how many learning resources we now have on the Internet. I remember in the past, before the Internet was popular, how difficult it was to learn about anything. I must go to the bookstore and hope that there were books about the topic I wanted to learn. Since I live in Indonesia, usually new books from overseas must be translated first before they were available in the bookstore. The translation process itself took months to complete, not to mention that many books were never translated.
Compared to those days, these days are unbelievable. There are so many free learning resources on the Internet. It’s just a matter of how we can get the right resources at the right time. Hence, this time I’d like to touch on some learning tools which can help you find the right resources at the right time.
Here they are:
Any questions in the world, you ask Google
Alan Cohen in The World is Flat
I find this statement is (almost entirely) true. You can find the answer of basically all questions in the world through Google. Of course, for some difficult questions you should know how to use Google in special ways to get the answers. There is actually a term for your ability to use Google: “Google-fu” which is derived from “kung fu”. I like this term, and I think Google-fu is a very important skill in the Internet age. All of us have access to the same tool, so what makes the difference is how skilled we are in using the tool.
Just in case you want to improve your Google-fu, here are some resources to help you:
I still find Wikipedia as the best resource to get quick overview on almost any topics on the earth. It is especially useful when I have to deal with topics which are new to me. I need overview and introductory material for those topics, but it can be difficult to find it with just a plain search in Google. For example, if I search for neural network in Google, most probably I will get a lot of technical resources which use neural network but never explain what neural network is in the first place. Wikipedia is great in such circumstances. It gives me exactly what I need: introductory material with enough follow-up information to make me familiar with that topic.
To make your Wikipedia exploration more pleasant, try Wikiseek. Also don’t forget to check Ten Wikipedia Hacks.
LearnOutLoud is the podcast directory I like most. Of course you can also go to iTunes podcast directory (or other directories) to find new podcasts, but I find the number of podcasts in iTunes is overwhelming. It’s difficult for me to distinguish which ones are the good podcasts and which ones are the average. LearnOutLoud solves this difficulty for me. It gives me podcast directory which contains only the best podcasts in certain topics. Thus, when I get interested in a topic, I just go to LearnOutLoud and find the best podcasts for that topic. And I like their recommendations. I’ve found quite a number of interesting and useful podcasts through it.
- OpenCourseWare Finder
Though I am not so keen on learning lecture materials, OpenCourseWare Finder will be very useful when you want to find lecture materials on certain topics. Just enter the topic you want to learn in the search box, and it will show you free lecture materials available from six universities (at the time of this writing), which include MIT, John Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon. It’s really helpful because it aggregates the results from multiple universities into one place.
This list will not be complete without Technorati. While LearnOutLoud helps you find good podcasts, Technorati helps you find good blogs. Just type the topic you are interested in and you will get relevant blogs from Technorati’s blog directory. The blogs are automatically ranked according to their authority (i.e. the number of other blogs pointing to them) and good blogs usually have high authority. This way it enables you to quickly find good blogs in any topic. To get the most of Technorati, check Ten ways to search with Technorati and Ten (more) ways to search with Technorati.
Using these five tools, I never run out of quality materials for my learning time. In fact, the opposite is true: so many quality materials, so little time. What an exciting world it is! If there are any tools I miss, you are more than welcome to add them in the comment.