Lockdown +

Aside from the obvious tragic dark sides of the Covid 19 pandemic, there have been some cultural gains from us being forced to slow down the pace a little and rely on our own resources. We’ve discovered the green spaces that we’ve been living next to for years, got to know our neighbours a bit better and have been forced to reacquaint ourselves with the positive aspects of our immediate communities. In amongst the undoubted isolation and loneliness, many people have also learned new skills – helped by our new best buddies, computers.

Your iPad can be almost anything you want it to be, more than spreadsheets, Zooms and endless work work work from home. It can also be your tutor, home help and even a personal university at a fraction of the cost of the real world institutions.


It’s never too late

There’s what is a largely urban myth that you can only learn new tricks as a young dog. Sure, it’s easier without the weight of the world on groaning shoulders, but widening one’s mind is one of the best things we can all do, and age is no bar. You can also learn how to fix the loo, the car, play an instrument, bake endless loaves of the ubiquitous sourdough bread – app learning can even lead to a new career. Read on.

There are many, many great resource apps and sites out there, so this list is just a taster and of necessity will miss some great ones out. A bit of judicious searching in your area of interest will lead you there, and also to some new interests that you may not be aware of. All of the apps listed here are trustworthy - tried and tested.

This is not a top ten, just a personal pick. Is cheese better than pickle?

So, in no particular order, let’s learn…..


Khan Academy


Pricing – free

The core tenet of founder Salman Khan’s philosophy is that Khan Academy should be absolutely free. And it is, no strings, no sell throughs, and you can take as many courses as you like, all for nothing.

It’s a non-profit organisation, and features subjects and courses from all over the world. Its mission is to provide access to educational content to anyone, and it does it very well indeed. Khan Academy has a slight emphasis on ‘traditional’ academic subjects – maths, science and the humanities, but there is a plethora of courses on much more. The structure tends to feel personalised rather than endless recorded lectures, and there’s a positive focus on visual aids – diagrams, charts, digital drawing boards to make the learning process more human, less tedious.

They also have a kid’s app, full of all sorts of subjects from language, maths, social studies to games and quizzes.

This is one of the best (and most accessible) ones out there.




Pricing – courses from £10.99

Udemy is an app with great functionality, offering 150,000 + courses in a wide variety of skills, from video editing, graphic design, SEO optimisation to language courses. Its focus is less traditional than ‘university’ type offerings – more tech and business oriented, but you can learn to play the guitar and/or speak Spanish too.

If you’re serious about a formal course, then don’t be afraid of paying for it! Courses start at £10.99 – that’s 2 pints of beer at my local, and these courses will certainly last longer than the beers will. Completed courses are offered with certification (for an extra modest sum), and many course resources can be downloaded for offline work.

Course enrolment is time unlimited – so once you’ve paid for it, it’s there forever for you. Note that Udemy often has drastically price cut flash sales where you can pick up some real bargains.




Pricing – free – up to £288 per year unlimited access

Coursera is one of the flagship ‘university’ type apps (the US slanted edX also deserves a mention here - https://www.edx.org/ ). It offers courses (and certification) from a host of top universities and industry leaders such as IBM and Google. Course material tends to be on the less trad side – computer science, IT, business etc., but also has a good offering of humanities and science.

There are many free courses available on Coursera, but you’ll tend to have to pay for the heavier duty offerings. Pricing at £42/month or £288/year gives you unlimited access to over 3,000 courses. That’s a lot of learning, and annual access probably works out to less than a months rent in a scummy flat near a campus.




Pricing – free – Duolingo Plus - £12.49/mo - £45.99/6mo - £75.99/year

Don’t be put off by the daft logo – Duolingo is one of the best language apps out there. It supports over 30 languages (and even some made up ones for fun), and in its core form is free. The interactivity of the app is nicely thought out, with motivational reward systems for perseverance and an entertaining social media element.

The paid-for Duolingo Plus version offers some extra features, but guess what? No ads. I’m not sure that it’s worth the extra £££ personally, but still and all a great app.




Pricing – subscription - £9.99/£7.99/£5.99 dependent on sign up commitment

Another great language learning app. Maybe not quite as much fun as Duolingo, but really good in conjunction with it if you’re serious about learning.

Babbel offers 13 languages - French, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Portuguese, German, Indonesian, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. There's also a course for learning English, with instruction available in French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, or Swedish. A nice touch is the placement test – a brief ‘exam’ that you take, enabling the app to start you off at your current level of ability.

The learning content is very useful, and arguably takes you deeper into a language than Duolingo. Well worth the money.




Pricing – free - £9.49/mo - £48.99/6mo - ££56.99/year

Photomath seems like magic to me. It’s a tool that allows you to solve a maths problem by simply taking a picture – then it gives you the answer.

There’s been a lot of conflicting opinion around this app. Will kids just flash their phones at it to cheat in maths tests? Maybe, but to me, it’s bit like the pub quiz scenario: - you can’t blame Wikipedia for having the answer if you’re intent on cheating.

If you consider this app as a learning tool, it all changes. It does a very good job at explaining the solving method, and will often lead to ‘aha!’ moments for students. The paid for version is way better at the explanation process than the free one. Of course it is.




Pricing – free/subscription + learning packs

Quizlet is a flash card based learning app, offering millions of quizzes on many subjects, but particularly useful for languages. It’s a nicely thought-out interface, and really doesn’t feel like learning. It has a heavy slant on memorisation – some will see that as a drawback, but useful for keeping them old grey cells bleeping. It’s also good very entertaining.

Many of the advanced features are only available once you take the inevitable step of parting with £££. Subscription also removes the ads. Yawn.




Pricing – free

Out of the world of straight learning, and into the realms of mind expansion.

Ted describes itself as a repository of ‘knowledge in dangerously addictive short ideas’ – intriguing in itself. It’s a non-profit organisation that dedicates itself to the dissemination of inspirational thoughts and new ideas, often in the form of ‘Ted Talks’ that are a bite-sized 18 minutes or less in length. The talks cover a massively diverse range of issues, from art to science to global issues – and everywhere in between. The Ted app gathers the entire Ted video library of talks into one place. Be prepared to change your mind and have your mind changed.




Pricing – free – subscription £5.99/mo to £12.99/mo dependent on commitment

I think this app is…well, brilliant. With Brilliant, you learn (chiefly maths and science) through puzzle solving. It allows you to dictate your own style options at setup that affect the pace and density of the app, and the interface is simple and lovely to use.

Rather than facing you with exams, Brilliant pairs short descriptions of concepts with problems to solve, so you’re diving straight in. It’s strangely addictive.

The free version only allows you to complete the first chapter of each course, has no offline mode and no daily challenges. The paid for version is kind of pricey, but if you’re the addictive type (like me) you may well be reeled in.




Pricing – free

Yep, that’s right, YouTube. I refuse to patronise anyone by explaining what YouTube is, but if you have been living in a cave for the last decade, go and find it and disappear down one of several million (billion?) rabbit holes now.

As well as endless videos of cats falling off tables, YouTube is the most fantastic learning resource. Off the top of my head, this year I’ve learned –

  • How to fix my DAB radio
  • How to work Final Cut Pro
  • How to keep pigeons off my solar panels
  • How to…

…well, you get the picture (sic). There’s almost nothing you can’t fix or learn with the right YouTube tutorial – although you do have to kiss video frogs to find the golden nuggets sometimes.


Education education education

When I was growing up, we had a full set of Encyclopaedia Brittanica in our front room. They took up about eight feet of shelving and were already hilariously out of date by the time I was 12. These days, it’s all there, folks, out there waiting for you in the clouds.

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