There were times I’d be sitting in my college classes frantically scribbling away in my notebook, hand cramping, making sure I had every note from the lecture recorded for when I’d have to study for the inevitable exam.

Every now and again I’d look around the lecture hall and notice one or two people just sitting back, taking in the info on the PowerPoint slides and listening intently to the professor talk. Sometimes they’d jot down some notes; sometimes they wouldn’t. And I was completely beside myself at the idea that someone could appear so calm and stress-free in class when I felt so much pressure to do well.

At some point I finally figured out why that was. Those people chilling in the lecture hall were auditing the class. No grades. No tests. No pressure to succeed nor fear of failure. They were actually there in that specific class because they wanted to be – because they wanted to learn.

Why that struck me as strangely foreign is a long conversation for another day, but too often in school it felt like I wasn’t learning for learning’s sake. I was regularly confronted by the idea that my natural curiosity had to take a back seat to more important matters. 

I was there to learn, sure. But primarily, I was there to do an assignment. To take a test. To get a grade. To gain credits. To maintain a GPA. To graduate. To get a job. To prove my value to society as a functioning member of the workforce. And somewhere in there, the quest for knowledge died. So those moments where I did let myself become fully invested in what I was learning for the sole sake of my curiosity and personal enrichment remain some of my all-time favorites.  

Which brings us to Khan Academy

The nonprofit organization provides free online learning tools and courses for students, but really for like … anyone – because anyone can be a student if they have something they want to know more about. 

Brought to you by a team of software engineers, program managers, and expert content creators with backgrounds in their respective subject matter, Khan Academy offers classes at multiple grade levels in a wide variety of subjects, including (but not limited to) math, science, art, and even humanities. 

“Created by experts,” its website says, “Khan Academy’s library of trusted, standards-aligned practice and lessons covers math K-12 through early college, grammar, science, history, AP®, SAT®, and more.”

It’s all free and a reminder that the value of our education doesn’t have to be tied to the commodification of our skills.There’s a real joy in learning for the sake of it, and it’s nice to know there are plenty of ways to continue our education no matter our background. 

That said, *climbs down off of soap box* here are 12 cool classes you can take on Khan Academy for free.

Learn the history of artistic expression from prehistoric times, through Medieval times, through the 1800s, and beyond – all the way through to present times. North American art, European art, African art, Asian art. Like, a lot of art. The course is an extensive compilation of historical info that art/history buffs could find seriously compelling.

Unlock the science of digital information. Learn about binary code, data compression, computer components and files, and of course, the internet. If you’re like me and computer science is a totally foreign concept to you, this is a good place to go to find a solid understanding of it.

Ah! Math! There wasn’t a math class in school that I didn’t fear with my entire being, and statistics was no exception. In fact, I was one poor performance on the final exam away from failing it. But let’s not revisit that any further. Maybe there’s a world where I actually find the mathematics of statistics and probability genuinely interesting. But in that world, I’m allowed the time and space needed to learn at my own pace. Maybe I’d actually enjoy it. Maybe you would too.

Talk about useful! There’s so much information here relevant to everyday life that many of us never learn unless we major in these subjects. Learn about interest and debt, loans, how to buy a house, what a mortgage is, inflation, taxes, stocks and bonds (!!!), and basically everything you always hear people talk about but you may not understand. 

We may not have been super interested in how the government works when we took those classes in middle and high school but, boy, does that knowledge come in handy, especially as a person living in the present-day United States. Learn about the principles of American democracy, different facets of the government, the details of citizenship, your guaranteed rights, political ideation, and the role of congress. It’s nice to know a bit about the entity that’s in charge of running things around here. 

To this day I understand so little about this thing called the economy that somehow dictates every aspect of our lives on a day-to-day basis. A thorough understanding of microeconomics seems like it’d be pretty advantageous.

Let’s get into some science, shall we? And why not start with the study of life? The biology course will teach you about the properties of life, cells, heredity, and much more.

If the mention of this course is enough to trigger unpleasant thoughts about the struggles of chemistry class from high school or college, just know that I relate. I frequently find that subjects that were difficult or painfully boring (or both) years ago actually seem interesting now. If I could try learning about them again in a pressure-free environment, I might actually get the hang of it. I mean, maybe not, but the urge to try is still there! Chemistry may fall into that category for me. Still deciding on that. But if it falls into that category for you, Khan Academy’s AP/College Chemistry course is one you could consider checking out.

Space is really freaking cool. Interested in the scale of the universe? What about planets? Galaxies? How geology on earth works? Don’t even try to tell me you’re not interested in stars and black holes and shit. There’s nothing like a little dose of astronomy to remind us just how small we are in the awe-inspiring grand scheme of things.

Understand how matter behaves. Learn about motion, light waves, sound waves, electric charges and forces, kinetic energy – all that good stuff. Why do things do what they do? Because physics, that’s why.

The course is split into two units. The first, “Imagineering in a Box,” teaches you how theme parks are made and what it takes to build a whole new world, *wink wink,* featuring insight from real Disney Imagineers. 

The second, “Pixar in a Box: The Art of Storytelling,” is about how Pixar Animation Studios (See: Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Inside Out, and Soul, for starters) tells its stories. You’ll learn from Pixar directors and story artists about what makes a good story, as well as the process of developing one – from a rough idea, to character, to story boarding to … infinity and beyond!

Uh, are you sold? I’m sold, especially since I didn’t have to spend any money.

It’s never too late to learn more about your career, or even to decide to explore a different one. Khan Academy’s “Careers” course teaches you about a multitude of different careers (veterinarian, education resource specialist, composer, and physical therapist, to name just a few) using interviews with industry professionals. The course also teaches you about handy career skills like networking and salary negotiation.

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