Thursday, September 24, 2015

Learn Something Online in the New Year

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are holidays of transformation. Many rabbis encourage congregants to use the High Holy Days as a time of reflection and personal growth. In sermons, rabbis speak of mending fences and healing fractured relationships, improving your outlook on life and making a difference in the world. This past Rosh Hashanah, however, I decided to talk about transformation in terms of taking on something new.

Rather than preaching about the importance of being a better person in the coming year -- something I've certainly spoken a lot about in Rosh Hashanah sermons past -- this year I decided to give some practical advice to the congregation. My message was that is never too late to transition to something different.

A generation ago it was commonplace for people to stay in the same profession and even the same job for a lifetime. By the time they retired they felt it was too late to start something new and different. Today's generation is less static and more flexible. That doesn't mean simply having the courage to transition from one profession to another. It can mean taking on a new hobby, going back to school or even launching that company you always dreamed about.

No matter how old you are or how comfortable you are with your status quo, I encourage you to consider taking on something new in the new Jewish year of 5776. Whether you're interested in learning a new language, taking a cooking class or learning to read Torah, the necessary resources are available today thanks to the power of the Internet. Of course it takes a commitment and no matter how busy you are these days, time will never stand still to allow you to take that class without making a sacrifice.

Technology today makes learning a new skill or hobby so much easier. Never before in human history has the access to education been so readily available. Reliable online classes are everywhere. Khan Academy can teach you new skills and YouTube videos can teach you new hobbies. You can get that master’s degree online that you probably thought was out of reach at this stage in your life. In the Digital Age, it's possible to simply take a walk every evening and learn a new language along the way. Listening to educational podcasts during your commute to work can be rewarding and provide you with the proficiency to transition to a new career.

Here are some recommendations for transformation and educational growth in the new Jewish year thanks to modern technology:

With the evolution of the Web and mobile apps, being able to write code has never been more in demand. Coding isn't just for young college students; it is an ideal skill for retirees as you can work from home. One Code Academy student went from knowing nothing about coding to building one of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Websites.

There are an array of impressive (and free) courses available at FutureLearn, including business and management, law, health and literature. The courses can be taken whenever you have some free time, including during your lunch break or late at night. Some of the interesting technology-based courses include robotics, learning to build a mobile game and an introduction to cyber security.

Duolingo is a fun and addictive mobile app where you can earn points for correct answers, race against the clock and level up. Duolingo provides bite-sized language lessons for you to learn a new language at your own pace. Some on-site language classes can be intimidating, but being able to take out your mobile device and learn a language is non-threatening and enjoyable.
It can be overwhelming today with the vast choices of online distance learning programs available from just about every university. connects learners to the best universities and institutions from around the world based on what you're interested in learning. From art history to improving your public speaking skills, edX will match you up with the best online course to be taken at your own convenient time.

If you want to be more active and have always craved more DIY (do-it-yourself) craft activities, Instructables will be a great website for you. Knitting, woodworking and creative cooking lessons abound here. From the big (remodel your kitchen) to the small (make a birdhouse with your grandkids), this is the website you wish was around when you had to make that science project in high school.

Writing workshops have always been popular, but traveling to them has been a barrier for many aspiring writers. Pulitzer Prize winning poet Philip Schultz founded the Writers Studio to help hopeful writers discover their own voices. Online course for poets and fiction writers are available at all levels.

Want to learn to play guitar, drums or piano online? There are several websites that will train you ( is great for guitar lessons), but the best one-stop-shop on the Web is Lesson Face. At this website you simply select your musical instrument and then you select your teacher. Group classes are available as well and there are many different price levels from which to choose.

YouTube and Vimeo also boast thousands of instructional videos to help you learn something new and exciting this year. TedX videos will inspire you and Khan Academy will awaken in you a new love for learning. The Internet is truly a magical place when it comes to transforming yourself. Now is a great time to exploit the power of the Web and grow your skill set. As the great Jewish sage Hillel said, "If not now, when?"

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