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A sampling of apps, websites and podcasts to satisfy a yearning for lifelong learning

Posted April 12

A new Pew Research survey found that many Americans use technology to become what they consider "lifelong learners." Here are some apps, websites and podcasts to satisfy your curiosity and, hopefully, extend learning beyond the classroom. (Deseret Photo)

For millions of Americans with Internet access, technology has become more than a fun way to pass the time or keep in touch with friends and family; it can also open them up to a world of knowledge.

But that’s only if they know how to access it.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that while most Americans (73 percent) consider themselves “lifelong learners,” few were aware of the many digital tools available to keep learning long after they finished school.

Of the just over half of Americans who have a smartphone and a home broadband connection, 82 percent engaged in some “personal learning” activity in the past year, yet most Americans said they were “not too much” or “not at all” aware of how technology can help with education such as distance learning or massive open online courses from major companies and universities.

That’s a tragedy, experts say, because now perhaps more than ever, Americans with a Wi-Fi connection have access to a nearly endless supply of educational content, very often for free.

“Technology can be a tremendous gateway into learning. It can open up all kinds of worlds,” said Chrissy Elgersma, senior editor at Common Sense Media Apps & Digital Learning. “It doesn’t have to replace traditional education, but it’s a new, exciting frontier.”

And while much is written questioning technology’s positive impact on human life, experts say the potential for growth through everyday technology is infinite.

“Food, for example. We need it to survive but in excessive amounts and bad quality, it can completely destroy our health. It's the same with technology,” app and online tool entrepreneur Kristyna Zapletalova said. “I'm a staunch advocate of using technology to one's advantage. There are thousands of affordable and easy-to-use apps which help us work smarter, grow our knowledge and improve our skills.”

Here are some apps, websites and podcasts that can help anyone, kids or adults, become lifelong learners:

CONTINUING EDUCATION

edX

Format: Website

Price: Optional certificate fees

EdX offers education courses for adults for varying stages of education from a plethora of universities across the country. From high school equivalency to university credits to brushing up on work-related skills, edX has a variety of classes to get students up to speed.

Coursera

Format: Website

Price: Optional certificate fees

Geared more toward updating a student's educational background for a tech-driven world, Coursera offers a number of top-rated courses from a wealth of universities in areas like data science, computing, cryptography, website design and more.

TECH SKILLS

Udacity

Format: App (Android and Apple)

Price: Free

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs developed Udacity to give more people a chance to hone the skills more and more employers look for in new hires, like data science, software engineering and Web development. Free courses and paid degree programs are available from experts who work at large companies like Google, AT&T, Amazon and more.

Minecraft: Pocket Edition

Format: App (Android and Apple)

Price: $7

There’s some debate over how beneficial or educational this crafting video game may be. On its face, Minecraft may not appear to be much: Just a 16-bit video game version of LEGO. But some experts and parents say that Minecraft’s no-frills graphics hide greater attributes for kids, namely, reasoning skills, abstract and creative thinking, as well as applied mathematics.

Scratch

Format: App (Android and Apple)

Price: $0.99

Developed at MIT, Scratch is a simple introduction to coding and creativity for very young children. Using the app and its in-app introductory coding language, kids can create and share (on Scratch’s website) a variety of creations from cartoons and videos to stories and pieces of original music.

LEARN A LANGUAGE

Babbel

Format: App (Android and Apple)

Price: Free

Set in a style reminiscent of college language programs, Babbel teaches users the basics of conversational foreign language in conventional ways — one word or phrase at a time, usually with an accompanying photo. Babbel may be a better choice for auditory and visual learners, as the phrases are spoken to the user and photos accompany each question in a lesson to give the student context.

Duolingo

Format: App (Android and Apple)

Price: Free

Duolingo is a better choice for text-based learners, children, or people who already know a second language and are looking to brush up on their foreign conversation skills. Users are prompted with a text sentence and then hover the cursor over each word to learn its proper use in the context of the sentence.

NEW SKILLS OR HOBBIES

Squareknot

Format: Website

Price: Free

Learn how to paint with light or maybe make some killer peppermint-pretzel bark. Either way, Squareknot is a super useful website full of step-by-step tutorials on how to do just about anything, but without the questionable outcomes, ads and related content of YouTube.

Yousician

Format: App (Android and Apple)

Price: Free

For anyone who’s ever wanted to learn to play the piano or the guitar, or regrets quitting lessons in their youth, there’s Yousician, an interactive app that goes beyond chord charts and sheet music to let the user play music on screen in real-time.

LISTEN AND LEARN

For people who want to learn something new but don’t have time or the desire to take a full-fledged class or pick up a new hobby, podcasts are perfect, adding an educational lift to the gym workout, walking the dog or the commute.

Invisibilia

Format: Podcast

Price: Free

Ever wonder why people do the things they do? Invisibilia is here to answer some of those questions with episodes dedicated to unraveling the invisible forces that affect human behavior. From ideas and beliefs to technology and echolocation, this podcast has something to fascinate everyone.

The Naked Scientists

Format: Podcast

Price: Free

From the University of Cambridge, this lesser-known podcast takes heady scientific concepts and applies them to everyday life in ways people can understand. Lovers of Radio Lab or Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Star Talk might enjoy this podcast that explores everything from robotics and genetics to how scientists measure water droplets and where the solar system ends.

You Are Not So Smart

Format: Podcast

Price: Free

This is a podcast made for the digital information age, when most people get their information in the blink of an eye and don’t always take time to question it. Host David McRaney dissects the nature of human decision-making, bias and assumptions people automatically make when inhaling information at break-neck speeds — with the help of academic psychologists, neurologists and other brain experts.

The Moth Radio Hour

Format: Podcast

Price: Free

A program where people tell true stories according to a designated theme in front of a live audience. While it’s not educational in the strictest sense of the word, it’s a crash course in empathy and the human condition. The stories expose listeners to people of all experiences and walks of life in surprising, funny and moving ways. In a society that’s increasingly more interested in staring at a screen than interacting with a stranger, The Moth reminds listeners of the experiences that tie us all together.

The State of the Human

Format: Podcast

Price: Free

The product of the Stanford Storytelling Project, this podcast explores the urges and behaviors that define what it means to be human — love, deception, forgiveness, belonging and more — bolstered with the latest research and science from Stanford University.

The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe

Format: Podcast

Price: Free

For those who like their science with a side of skepticism, this podcast (hosted by Yale University neurologist Dr. Steven Novella) explores new scientific discoveries as well as conspiracy theories and exploring the future of where science and technology may go next. The show also debates and unpacks hot scientific topics with the help of guests, such as the debunked connection between autism and childhood vaccination.

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

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