There are two ways to approach education, one with the intention of seeking knowledge, and the second is to obtain some form of credentials for this knowledge in the form of an accreditation, certification and diploma.
Traditional Education and the Need for Credentials
Discussion of pursuing an online, correspondence or distance education programme. Costs associated with such a programme. Please see Talk:Education for my thoughts. Needs to be expanded.
Traditional Universities offering special courses
Stanford Engineering As an experimental first (of sorts), three traditional Stanford classes, namely,
have been offered online for free to anyone in the world. Those who successfully pass the class will earn a statement of accomplishment, autographed by the professors handling the respective courses. Most videos are short, spare (in a Khan Academy format on pen and paper) and the professors say this is a glimpse of other activities in the pipeline. Watch this space.
Independent Pursuit of Knowledge
Assuming you don't seek a diploma, it is perfectly feasible to educate yourself. Recently, there have been great developments in online learning tools.
- MIT OpenCourseWare Multi-college program, putting lecture recordings, suggested reading, assignments, and so forth online for general use.
- iTunes U Apple provides a service to download lectures from various universities via iTunes
- Khan Academy Online video lectures, typically a teacher speaking and drawing on a virtual blackboard. A large variety of courses for various skill levels and ages are available.
- Project Gutenberg Huge selection of free public domain books (in the US, books written before 1923).
- Coursera Take free online college courses from reputable universities.
There are frequently good online resources available to help learn specific things. These sites are tailored to a specific course of study and can be interactive.
- LiveMocha Great resource with free language lessons for a variety of languages. Provides lessons, quizzes, and a way to get feedback on what you've spoken or written from native speakers of a given language. All available free, although there is premium content.
- No Excuse List A collection of educational resources covering many topics.
Local libraries are always a standby for educational resources, but it's also worth checking libraries of local universities. This will give you access to more scholarly resources. Many university libraries allow local residents to check out books. They aren't just limited to students.
See the Pew Internet's section on Libraries for a sampling of what libraries are providing in the US.
Hospitals frequently offer lectures and classes on health-related topics including nutrition, CPR, diabetes care, and stress management. If you volunteer at a hospital, you will often be able to take classes like CPR certification for free. If you have a family member who has a chronic condition, your insurance company may pay for education related to the disease. (For example, family members who reside with a cardiac patient can receive CPR training.) Children's hospitals offer many classes. Parents are often allowed to attend classes for free if their child is a patient of the hospital.