Resources For Self-Education

The web is a boon to self-education. Using the internet you can access a vast array of information, tutorials, classes, elearning, research databases, online magazines and newsletters, blogs, books, videos, audio, and the offerings keep growing. Most are free and if you’re clever you can usually find a free alternative to learn just about anything. But there are plenty of great sites and online classes that charge a fee that might just be worth it. The links below are a great place to start your self-directed learning investigations.

Search Engines – The Primary Research Databases

The basic search engines we use every day (and some lesser known ones) are still among the best online research databases available.

We all know the big few search engines that have risen to the top in popularity:, and You should give the new a try too. Those are always great places to start your research and should generally be your first stop online when beginning your research. But there are lots of other search engines out there you’ll find useful as well. I often use for my research because I like the way it displays search results, but there are easily a dozen search engines of various kinds I use regularly in the course of my learning and research.

For a great list of search engines that includes web search engines, metasearch engines, desktop search tools, web portals, and vertical market websites, visit the List of Search Engines offered by the free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Getting the Most Out of Your Search

A search engine is only as good as the way you use it. There are some great tips that will make your online searches much more productive. For a great tutorial on how to effectively search the web, visit the Web Search Strategies tutorial.

Databases, Portals, Libraries and Resources

While you might think the most learning would result from online research databases, the truth is many of the best online research resources aren’t actually databases. Online research and learning sites generally fall into one of these categories:

  • Database. A collection of records or data organized in ways that allow for logical searching and often provide extensive academic or professional research and data sources.
  • Portal. A site that provides a single point of access to a variety of information and tools. For example, a portal might provide convenient access to a collection of databases and online research tools.
  • Library. A library is a collection of information, sources, resources and services, usually run by an educational institution, but not always.
  • Resources. In this sense a resource is any physical or virtual entity that helps you to conduct research, learn, organize your research and learning, or otherwise gather information or gain skills. For example, it can be a set of online tools that enable research and learning.

Many of the research databases are free. Some of them will require usernames and passwords to receive full access to journal articles. In some cases you can get a free trial for a limited period to bypass the username/password requirement, or you can search these databases from your local library. Library computers often have automatic access to journal databases.

Each of the following listings includes the URL (link) and a brief description. I tried to group them in some logical fashion, but ultimately a simple alphabetical list seems to be the least cumbersome. If you notice any incorrect links or links that are no longer active, please let me know. Also, if you know of additional online research databases, portals or other learning resources, I’d appreciate receiving that information to help improve this page in future versions.

About Ivan Illich – Very useful page about Ivan Illich with links into key obituaries and to his writings. Includes e-texts of Deschooling Society and Tools for Conviviality.

Autodidactic Press – Founded by Charles D. Hayes. You’ll find books, a newsletter and other useful information related to lifelong learning. I find Mr. Hayes writing to be extremely insightful and wise. Strongly recommended.

The Autodidact Project – The Autodidact Project by Ralph Dumain.

Byte This: Exploring The Landscape Of Education After Social Media – Byte This explores the rapidly changing landscape of education after social media.

Connexions – Connexions is an exciting site were educators can view and share educational material in small knowledge modules that can be organized as courses, books and other delivery mechanisms. A very exciting advancement in the concept of open-source learning.

Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars – This network of independent scholars, based at Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, has been meeting about once a month for the past five years.

ESSCOhost – A portal that hosts many research databases pertaining to a variety of general research subject areas. – A site that provides you a place where you can ask questions to a large collective of people who frequent the site. takes your question and directs it to the people who can best answer that question. A simple, but very powerful concept.

Free Education Online – Massive Resource List for All Autodidacts. Amazing site with lots of links to great resources for self learners. – Free education on the internet.

HowStuffWorks – This isn’t your typical academic database, but if you’re looking for practical, solid information about how things work, you’ll enjoy this site. It cuts through most of the theory and gives you practical information about a range of topics including computers, electronics, food, geography, health, and much more. – Known for his critique of modernization and the corrupting impact of institutions, Ivan Illich’s concern with deschooling, learning webs and the disabling effect of professions has struck a chord among many informal educators. This site explores key aspects of his theory and his continuing relevance for informal education and lifelong learning. This sites contains some great links and recommended reading.

Intute – Free portal service that provides access to good web resources for education and research. Created by a network of United Kingdom universities and partners. Subject specialists select and evaluate the websites in the database and write thorough descriptions of the resources. As of July 3, 2008 the database contains 123506 records. Subject areas include arts and humanities, health and life sciences, science, engineering and technology, and social sciences.

Learnativity: Commercial Learning Portals – List of commercial learning portals (sites that link to either a collection of home-grown educational content or to content and courses produced by others).

NoodleTools – Provides innovative software that teaches students and supports teachers and librarians throughout the entire research process. Features assist you in searching intelligently, assessing the quality of results, recording, organizing and synthesizing information using online notecards, formatting a bibliography in MLA or APA style.

One Day University – This company offers one-day learning experiences in the form of a few topics taught in a classroom-style environment by award-winning professors from Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton, Dartmouth, Columbia, The University of Pennsylvania, Cornell and other well known schools. Their one-day classroom events are held in various cities throughout the United States.

100 Best Self-Education Sites for Switching Careers – Emily Thomas’ great blog post listing her 100 best self education sites for switching careers. Although she’s targeting career changers, the sites are great resources for all self educators.

Open Culture – This site has an amazing array of links to the best free cultural and educational media on the web. It’s a darn good site. The Open Culture Editor, Dan Colman, scours the web for what he believes to be the best cultural and educational media. He then presents it neatly and intuitively linked through this excellent site.

Open Education at Creative Commons – A project dedicated to providing access to open education resources for everyone to share, use and reuse knowledge.

The Personal MBA – The Personal MBA (PMBA) is a systematic program of business self-education designed by Josh Kaufman to help people master advanced business concepts without enrolling in a traditional MBA program.

Questia – Online library that provides 24/7 access to the world’s largest online collection of books and journal articles in the humanities and social sciences, plus magazine and newspaper articles. Site claims the scholarly content is selected by professional collection development librarians and is not available elsewhere on the Internet. Also offers a range of search, note-taking, and writing tools. These tools help students locate the most relevant information on their topics quickly, quote and cite correctly, and create properly formatted footnotes and bibliographies automatically.

Scholar – Scholar (by Blackboard) - A general research portal offering simple and advanced searching by tag,discipline, and/or institution. You can check out other users’ resources and collections to help in your own research. Choose search terms or another user’s collection that is relevant to your area of research and sign up to receive the most recent bookmarks via RSS. Plenty of other great features too.

SciCentral – A gateway site to science news sources. Categorized by biosciences, health sciences, physics/chemistry, earth/space and engineering.

Self-Directed Learning – 1994 article in The International Encyclopedia of Education (second edition).

Self Made Scholar – Learn Free. The goal of is to connect people to the resources they need to learn. Anyone who is interested in learning (be it academic learning or technical learning) is welcome to join the community. Business professionals, students, seniors, stay-at-home-moms, homeschoolers, unschoolers, and autodidacts of all kinds are welcome.

SharpBrains – Great article on how to remember more of what you read, a vital self education skill.

Somerset Country Library Electronic Resources – A general research portal with links to a wide variety of electronic research resources and databases for subject areas including general, newspapers, books, ebooks, automobiles, biographies, business, education, geneology, health, history, science, practice tests and encyclopedias.

Starfall – The Starfall learn-to-read website is offered free as a public service. They also provide writing journals and books at a very low cost that can be used with the website or separately. Teachers around the country are using Starfall materials as an inexpensive way to make the classroom more fun and to inspire a love of reading and writing. Primarily designed for first grade, is also useful for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and second grade. Starfall is perfect for Home Schooling. [Note: While I focus primarily on adult learners, I thought this site was cool enough to include it here.]

Suite 101 – Suite 101 presents itself as the world’s most comprehensive independent online magazine written and edited by professionals. As I’m writing the site has 150,000 articles covering a wide range of topics.

The Teaching Company – The Teaching Company offers high quality courses on DVD, audio CD, audiotape, transcript book and audio download files in MP3 or MPEG4 format. Courses are taught by top notch, engaging professors from the Ivy League, Stanford, Georgetown, and other leading colleges and universities. They provide the adventure of learning, without the homework or exams. Bill Gates is a fan of this site and I highly recommend it. Considering the quality of the courses, the prices are pretty low too.

TED – In 1984, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) began as a conference that brought people together from those three fields. The annual conference has broadened its scope and now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who present to the audience and the world the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less. The best talks and performances are available to the public at no cost. When people ask me if I have a favorite website, I always mention this one. You can lose yourself for hours admist the fascinating and inspiring talks. Do yourself a favor and visit this site.

Online Education Database – The Best Online Research Apps/Sites You’ve Never Heard Of - Great article listing some unique research sites, listed in alphabetical order.

VersusLaw – A legal general research site offering three levels of subscription access to legal research of case law, state source materials, citation feature, Federal District Court opinions, Federal specialty practice courts materials, and U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations.

Wide Awake Minds – The education blog of Ryan McCarl, a writer and graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Education. Lots of great self education information and commentary.

Wikipedia – This has quickly become the default online reference for many people. You can lose yourself easily in this wealth of information gathered in an open source style.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kimberly Mahler July 28, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Nice meeting you today, Race. I’ve read through your site and am really enjoying it. There’s definitely a lot of room here for necessary and exciting content. I particularly like your list of resources and the articles on self-education. Let me know if you are ever interested in some collaboration or articles/essays on education.



2 Race Bannon July 28, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Kim, a pleasure meeting you as well. Thanks for the kind words. We can definitely talk about some collaborative work. Be well until then.

3 Dane July 4, 2010 at 9:38 pm

There is a site you left off that I think you should check out. I think you’ll really like it. It’s called Virtual Professors and it is free lectures and courses. It’s really interesting.

4 Race Bannon July 4, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Thanks for the great resource!

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