The web is an amazing resource for all sorts of information. No longer do you have to bust out a farmer’s almanac to see a detailed history of a specific region’s climate history because, chances are, that information has been archived online. No longer are we reliant on atlases to show us topographical information because amazing global positioning satellite systems exist that give us a wealth of information formerly unattainable and perhaps inaccessible to us common folk.
Another domain that has been irreversibly changed is education, and most experts would agree that it is for the better. More information has been organized and curated in such a form that any Joe Schmo off the street can get a high-calibre education even without many resources. This is the democratising effect of the internet in process: one needs only to have the will to pursue the material at their fingertips to really embark on self-improvement.
Let us delve in and take a closer look at the online resources and apps available to you, the average user. If you want to enhance your brain power with online tools, keep your brain fresh, or alternatively, brush up on your gaming skills, then give these a try.
The Brain Trainers
These sites range from relatively simple concepts like Sudoku (which, for anyone who enjoys this mathematics-based game as a hobby understands that the execution can be anything but simple) to things like memory exercises which jog certain parts of the brain that might otherwise go unused for long stretches. These little games are likened to working out your brain just as you might work out your body for a short period of time on a regular basis.
These activities are helpful for people of all ages, but those in their elderly years will certainly benefit more: a greater number of studies show that keeping an active mind is important for the brain as it ages, and doing exercises and games that keep different parts of the brain engaged are associated with warding off Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other such diseases typically associated with growing older. This is because some types of simulations have been linked to improved performance in categories like short-term memory capacity and reasoning – two of the fastest faculties to escape with ageing.
Owing to their popularity, brain training instalments have become a burgeoning industry. Traditional game makers like Japanese tech giant Nintendo have even got involved, creating the successful Brain Age line of games, with the tagline ‘Train your Brain in Minutes a Day’. These types of games are challenging the grain of popular thought that video games are a useless waste of time that teach us nothing.
Meanwhile, an entire cottage industry of sites is emerging, ranging from Brain Metrix – a fairly typical service that has brain training programs in things like memory and reflex testing – to more niche offerings on some sub-sections of social media sites like Pinterest.
Probably the most well-known mental fitness website around, it has both the benefit of being around for a long time combined with the backing of a team of neuroscientists. Luminosity offers a free week-long trial to test their features and see if you feel like there is a tangible benefit to their program. Likely, you will find that your scores will increase as you get the hang of the various exercises. This popular site has been featured in all sorts of publications, from the New York Times to National Public Radio; it seems to have become the poster-boy of what has captured the public’s imagination about these kinds of services.
Backed by Freie Universitat Berlin and Technische Universitat Dortmund, Neuro Nation is another brain training alternative that boasts the ability to improve working memory and make rational decisions more quickly while better ignoring distractions. Offering 60 exercises designed by scientists, you can personalise your program on the web or on their app.
This site and app take a more games-centric approach to mental fitness, as opposed to their aforementioned peers who take a more strict, on-the-nose, no-nonsense approach to staying mentally healthy. Their philosophy, not unlike Nintendo’s with the Brain Training series, is to keep games fun for the whole family; this way, the user is more likely to return and reap the benefits of doing essentially the same kinds of exercises as their competitors. Once again, Fit Brains boast a personalized program that is tailored to your needs and the kinds of experiences you enjoy, with ramping difficulty curves that still remain accessible, of course.
Khan Academy is a stalwart of online educational resources, and one of the first of its kind to have many lessons on a huge variety of topics. Whether you are interested in macroeconomics, prehistoric European and west Asian art, or 4th-grade math, you are covered. As is typical of topical lesson-based websites that offer video and text-based tutorials, this site is heavy on the math, sciences, and computer sciences and less focused on humanities subjects, although those do still exist. This is a more a la carte, lesson-based offering rather than a full course that is curriculum-based, as we will see more of below.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)
MOOCs (funny acronym notwithstanding) are excellent, in-depth resources for learning about a particular topic following an entire course over a length of time, typically timed either the equivalent of a school term or as quickly as you can complete the course. Three standouts in this field are Udacity, edX, and Coursera, but there are also individual behemoths in the academy – your Yale’s, Harvard’s, MIT’s, Stanford’s, Berkeley’s, the list goes on – that offer courses on their websites which also happen to crossover with the aforementioned MOOCs-only sites.
Importantly, MOOCs are defined by being exclusively online and without any kind of tuition or fee. Furthermore, they are accessible because there are no barriers to entry, no pre-requirements, nothing saying you cannot get started if you do not have a computer, internet connection, some time, and the will to learn about Princeton-based historical courses with such intriguing titles as ‘Paradoxes of War.’ Or you might be more interested in Seoul National University’s ‘Robot Mechanics and Control, Part I.’ Whatever the case, there is a comprehensive list of choices that go deep into their respective fields. For these courses, you usually receive a nominal degree certifying that you completed the course, but rarely is there any kind of recognition that approaches an actual degree from any of these universities.
University of Reddit
A subreddit of popular link-sharing site Reddit, this page has courses hosted by people that are ordinary internet denizens just like you or me, only they have a particular base of knowledge that they are passionate about teaching to others. Again, the range of topics on courses taught runs the gamut, but you are more likely to find more, let’s say, informal subjects of study given the crowd-sourced nature of the site; one such example would be a tutorial on how to play the infamously hard video game Dwarf Fortress.
No matter how you choose to engage your brain online, rest assured that you are spoiled for choice. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start learning!