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topSo, What is This Place?

Hi. My name is Dave Heiserman, and I grow and maintain this site. It all started in 1997 when I wanted to demonstrate the feasibility of offering free online education to the global community. It worked. Free-Ed.Net  topped the Google search for "free education" [1] and boasted of a half-million unique visitors each month. Clearly it was a good idea. This lasted until early 2012 when the notion of free education on the Web caught the fancy of larger organizations and institutions with larger staffs and deeper pockets. Today, "online education" has become a common term in the vocabulary of the digital age, and I am left with the exciting prospect of leading the way to yet another revolution in how we learn, think, and survive in a global community of constant change and challenges. It's a sustainable form of self-directed lifelong learning (SDLL).

But first, a word from a sponsor:

Psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy describes the ideal "new education" of the 21st century this way:

The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.

Carefully notice that the new education must teach an individual how to learn. It is then up to the individual to launch out on their own, searching out the details and adjusting to changes on their own--for a lifetime! And the education model characterized by courses (online or in the classroom) is certainly important at the beginning, but it is far too clumsy and restrictive for a lifetime of individualized instruction and re-instruction.

Digitizing lectures and textbooks certainly makes the first-line of education accessible to a much wider audience, but it doesn't address the actual needs of our time--learning how to learn, unlearn, and relearn at a pace dictated by social and cultural changes. What is needed is a kind of education that is practical, accessible, effective, and sustainable for a lifetime. And that is exactly what I am demonstrating with this repurposed version of Free-Ed.Net.

It is perfectly understandable that some people aren't ready to shed the old habits and launch headlong into a workable lifelong learning plan, so we offer some learning resource presented in the  familiar formats such as online courses and e-textbooks. All are free of charge, of course.  Also, there are a number of schools and home school people using course material they found here during the earlier days of Free-Ed.Net. There is no point in stranding them with file-not-found messages.


How is Self-Directed Learning Different from Traditional Learning?

The key difference is that it takes advantage of the way human beings are naturally built to learn--namely, little bits at a time. A second difference is that there is nothing sacred about what has been learned before; so entire blocks of acquired knowledge and skills can be set aside in favor of something that is proving to be more accurate and useful. And finally, lifelong learning is self-directed--you are both the teacher and the student. You are the author and the reader. You are the researcher and the benefactor of the results.

Check out this little guy playing with the blocks: He is learning as human beings are wired to learn--exploring, trying, failing, but ever expanding one's knowledge and experience. The driving force is curiosity, not the prospect of a better job or the fear of failure. It is both self-motivated and self-directed. Who knows? Maybe his confidence with building-block skills will lead to the same sort of confidence and skills needed for designing a better aerospace propulsion system, or writing an enduring novel.

Or consider these two young people "playing" in the backyard. Their minds are a bit more mature than that of our little friend with the building blocks. They can experiment with some different ways to go about satisfying their curiosity. But where is their lab manual? Where are their notepads to be turned in for grading? Where is the teacher? Driven by curiosity, learning becomes a totally absorbing process; and it is likely these kids will recall such moments through the remainder of their lives.

Self-Directed Learning

It might not be the most efficient way to learn, but it is the most effective. It's called "chunk learning."

Traditional learning eliminates the burdens of planning what and when to learn--It's all standardized, organized, and sanitized for universal consumption. All the planning is done for you. Your job is to remember a lot of stuff long enough to pass the next exam. There is no time for reflection or (gasp!) following an idea beyond the scope of the syllabus.

But I digress ...

Let's have another word from one of our sponsors, then back to the nature of lifelong learning at Free-Ed.Net.

Lifelong Learning @ Free-Ed.Net

As mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this page, courses are not a big thing in the contemporary world of self-directed lifelong learning. We have some nice courses here at Free-Ed.Net. They serve a purpose; but they are no longer the mainstay of this site. Free-Ed.Net now features two things related to effective self-directed lifelong learning:

  1. Opportunity

  2. Encouragement

Opportunity. Remember the image if that little guy playing with the toy blocks? (Scroll up the page a bit if you need a reminder). Well, the blocks represent his opportunity of the moment. Free-Ed.Net provides learning opportunities across a wide range of topics and general interests. These aren't big gee-whiz courses conducted or designed by the world's greatest experts. Let's be real here: Most of us manage to throw a week or two into such projects, only to let down the effort and soon abandon the project with this horrible feeling failing once again.

Not Staying the Course

Coursera, ostensibly the best free online course provider, touts a completion rate for its most successful course of 50,000 enrollees at 19.2 percent[2]. Doesn't that sort of indicate something is out of step when it comes to providing learning opportunities for real people with real needs to succeed?

Think about it: Isn't there a viable alternative to a full semester of read, listen, take notes, recall, recall, and hopefully recall? Yep. That would be the same subject presented in smaller, bite-size pieces. The little guy with the building blocks (above) is working with small, lightweight, and easily handled pieces. His goal is  .... well ... to play. But let's put him into a traditional learning situation and expect him to construct an 8-foot high castle, complete with windows, turrets , and a moat. Right. Let's kill the real learning opportunity, self-motivation, and creativity. Let's make him feel like crap for failing to meet expectations. But I digress...

The lifelong learning resources at Free-Ed.Net are organized by areas of general interest: Arts & Humanities, Science, Social Science, Allied Health, Computer Science, and so on. It all begins at the main home page at www.free-ed.net. If you already know the subject that interest you, you should be able to find it, or a close relative, in a fairly short time. If you have no idea what your real interest might be, you are in for even more fun exploring and playing with all the bits-and-pieces of ideas you will uncover. Maybe even start by making Free-Ed.Net, itself, a learning experience.

Here is what you can expect to find as you explore this site:

Courses. Yes, we do offer some courses--learning materials that are organized to unfold the details of a subject from square-one to "graduation."  But you don't have to sign up for the whole package. You can dip in wherever you choose, back up when you feel lost, or zoom ahead to the next topic of interest. Or you might abandon it with no feeling of "Sigh! I Failed again." It would be more like "Well, I've gotten what I can from the course at this time. Maybe I'll be back for more when it seems necessary ... or not."

 e-Textbooks. Free-Ed.Net is home of one of the finest, most exclusive collection of free online textbooks. The selections are relevant to active lifelong-learning projects. There is no attempt to impress you with a list of a thousand books from the 19th century, or contemporary text on obscure topics such as Springer Analysis of Concrete Beams for Heavy-Load Bridge Structures. I don't waste my site's memory allocation and your time with that sort of thing. No. Our e-textbooks are appropriate for a wide range of technical and academic topics. And you are not impressed to read the texts from cover to cover. As with the courses, you can dip in where you want and leave when you want. Even an hour perusing the pages of a good e-textbook can uncover gems of knowledge that add immeasurably to your understanding and plans for future studies.

Topic Tutorials. Topic tutorials are complete chapters from contemporary textbooks. I'm not talking about chapters from free e-textbooks, but whole chapters from those $200+ items required for most college-level courses. They are actually sample chapters intended for professors who might have an interest in adopting the textbook for their course. What can you learn from just one chapter? Some of them are thirty to sixty pages long. If you can't learn something significant from a presentation like that, you haven't yet grasped the meaning of real learning.

Preview Books. You might be familiar with Google's preview books and Amazon's Look Inside feature. The two are rapidly becoming one and the same. In any case, they provide a peek at the pages of a book. The problem is that you are never quite sure which and how many pages will be available. What good is just part of a book? Well, what good is sitting in you dentist's reception room leafing through the pages of a magazine, from back to front? You are browsing for something that might be interesting. Often there is nothing that catches your attention, but other times ... . You get the idea.

 

Encouragement. Few people in your life are prepared to encourage any effort you might make toward the kind of lifeline learning program featured here at Free-Ed.Net. This kind of work is traditionally a lonely affair, mainly because "society" is generally clueless about effective, self-directed learning. I've been with it for nearly three-quarters of a century, so I am acutely aware of the roller-coaster ride it makes of a life. I know a lot more about being discouraged than encouraged by friends, family, and coworkers.

And I'm not into motivational "hold-you-feet-to-the-fire" stuff. If you are self-motivated to learn (even if you feel like walking away from it for a short time), you don't need a drill seargent or a loud-mouth motivational speaker to keep you going. Once you let the fire start, there is no putting it out. So you shouldn't expect to find a lot of kisses and hugs here. I'm just a grizzly old man who has a lot of experience with this special brand of lifelong learning and the kinds of people it attracts (and repels). You'll be okay. Just play around on the site until that fire flares up again. It will.

The Path Not Taken
(Until a radical lifelong learner comes along)

There is a step beyond the type or level of lifelong learning offered here at Free-Ed.Net. I call it Radical Lifelong Learning. This is where you excel in your learning to a point where you can put it to work in the real world -- devising a career that is way above your pay grade. It's how I managed to teach technology and math in junior colleges for twenty years with no degree. It's how I managed to pick up a Federal research grant, put two U.S. patents on my wall, write thirty technical books for mainstream publishers, and a handful of other things that are detailed in my Kindle book:


Tell Me Again: Why Should I Want to Do This?

The whole idea is to become more independent, take greater control of your own life, and make yourself less dependent upon the promises of a world that is undergoing seismic changes on all quarters. I know about this stuff first hand. There was a period of about eight years where I was operating a successful website. The gross income was very, very satisfactory--much more than I had imagined for my "retirement years." But one day a faceless, nameless, corporate person signed off on a change in their operation that caused a 70% drop in my income over the next three months. I was depending on an implicit promise that the generous amount of income would continue forever. There was nothing illegal or sinister about the company's actions. I simply got blindsided by the actions of a corporation that was, itself, adjusting to some changes. I might have seen it coming if I had been looking, but the outcome and my response would have been no different. (Well, I could have started making my own adjustment sooner). The point is that I was counting on the income from a reliable Fortune-500 company, and the whole thing changed ... very suddenly and unexpectedly. And this is where a lifetime of self-directed learning and skill-building paid off.

So, why should you want to do this? Condensing my response to a single word:  "Survival".

Back in the 1930s and 40s, "promises" were easier to keep. Often they seemed like laws of nature etched in granite. My parents wanted me to go to work for local steel foundry after my graduation from high school. There was the promise of a secure job as a common laborer, then moving up to line supervisor. That foundry had proven it good on its promises, reliable work and a lifetime pension after 25 years of faithful service.

Also in those days, there was the promise of a great job with advancement opportunities after graduation from a 4-year college. That worked, too.

But the world found a way to change. The foundry had to raid its retirement fund to stay afloat a few more years. Where would that have left me? I would have been living on the pension at that time because I wasn't yet old enough for Social Security. My case is hypothetical, but all too real and financially devastating for a hundreds caught up in the broken promise of retiring early on a pension.

And the college thing? I imagine you are acutely aware of what has happened to that promise that a college diploma brings life happy ever after. Many of today's college grads have no job or are working at a job that doesn't require a degree. Many are so financially and emotionally strapped that they've moved back into the comfort and security of their parents' home. Of course there is a crushing load of college debt that many see as a force resisting any effort to get on with a real life.

The golden era of America's promises of college and career are gone. There is a new paradigm in the making, but it is far from settled. We can only guess how it is going to turn out and we can only speculate about the sorts of workable promises that might fall into place in the future. For now, we are caught in this maelstrom of change, and knowledge is the only workable buffer against a lot of bad things that can happen.

We tend to build our world--our lives--according to the promises of others that we choose to accept. Active self-directed learning is a terrific way to assess those promises and act upon them with insight and intelligence.  Consider, for example,  the TV commercials from trusted "wealth management" investment or life insurance firms. These ads get a bunch of millennials breaking out in their happy dance over the prospect of enjoying 30-plus years secure retirement by socking away something around 5% of their monthly gross income 'til age 70. But what are the chances that we will have four consecutive decades of political, financial, and social stability that will fulfill that dream the commercials offer?  Chances are probably closer to 1% than 50%. It's a promise that delivers only great disappointment.

So many things--politically, socially, financially, and physically--will be undergoing varying degrees of change. Some changes will be minor and some will shatter the status quo. The firm promise is that things will change, and you have to find that one person you can count on to make the necessary adjustments and keep moving ahead. And that person is YOU. And the engine of personal survival and advancement is the ability to acquire and use knowledge. Remember:

The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself.

Staying physically fit has become a serious part of everyday American culture. We can expect the same for the mind and lifelong learning.


Notes:

[1] See the WayBack Machine Internet Archive.

[2] Not Staying the Course; Inside Higher Ed, May 10, 2013.

David L. Heiserman, Editor

Copyright ©  SweetHaven Publishing Services
All Rights Reserved

Revised: June 06, 2015