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Fun, Free (If Perhaps Useless) Skills You Can Learn Online

Sure, you could learn to code, or you could actually enjoy yourself

Some asshole has probably already told you that now is a great time to learn to code, consider a career change or go back to school. Plenty of people have more free time right now, or are at least looking for new ways to spend the free time they have. Bettering yourself for financial gain is perfectly fine and noble — do what you’ve gotta do to get by. But there’s also nothing wrong with passing your time with activities that will never earn you a single dollar. Maybe instead of “getting ahead,” now is a good time to, I don’t know, do something you enjoy, or have always wanted to try. Even if it’s really fucking stupid.

If you want to put a more productive spin on it, well, good news: There are literally thousands of free online courses from reputable sources (like freaking Harvard, for example) and quick videos that can teach you all kinds of fun, dumb and still potentially useful hobbies or skills. Here’s a smattering of some of those courses, geared toward beginners just looking for something new to learn… 

Backyard Meteorology

Fuck the Weather Channel! You can learn how to tell the weather yourself, thanks to this self-paced course from Harvard University. The course is designed to take six weeks, with three to five hours of effort per week, but you can technically cherry-pick which lessons you wish to listen to and learn as little or as much as you like. If you listen to the course in its entirety, you’ll learn all about how global weather systems work, how to describe tornadoes, the limits of computer-based weather prediction systems, and best of all, how to interpret today’s weather in order to predict the next day’s without using any tools. 

Crime-Adjacent Skills 

Sure, knowing how to pick a lock could definitely come in handy someday if you get locked out of your apartment or whatever. But you know when else it would come in handy? When you’re looking to commit some crimes. There are videos explaining how to pick just about any type of lock, from a padlock to whatever your car uses. The possibilities are truly endless!

“How to Do Things with Memes”

As you are surely well aware, memes are a complex form of art and communication, imbued with social meaning. Have you ever wondered, though, how we got to the point where we practically think in meme form? This is a self-paced mini-course from Davidson College, containing just three to five hours of content. In the end, though, you’ll understand the origin of memes, how to better understand memes and even how to make memes yourself.

The Splits

I’ve always wanted to be able to do the splits, but I’ve never dedicated myself to the task. In any case, if you practice every day, eventually you should be able to do it. You will then have a very cool party trick, when parties are a thing again. 

Whistle With Your Fingers

Another thing I’ve always wanted to do, but in this case I never even thought to Google it. These videos ended up just making me spray saliva all over myself, but I at least feel a step closer to understanding how to do it than I was before.

All the Basic Shit Around the House You Should Know How to Do, But Don’t

This isn’t a course per se, though you could treat it as such. There are several YouTube channels and thousands of videos dedicated to teaching skills like how to unclog a sink or how to check your tire pressure, but it’s kind of nice to pick one or two creators you particularly like as your go-to. One newer channel, called “Dad, How Do I?” features a father explaining all sorts of those little things a dad might hypothetically teach. Apparently, the father behind the channel was raised without a dad himself, and wants to provide guidance for other people without a dad around to answer their questions. Conceptually, that might tug at your heartstrings, but the videos themselves are pretty straightforward.

Make Your Handwriting Look Less Serial Killer-y 

My handwriting is absolutely unhinged. If you received an unmarked letter from me, you’d probably fear for your life simply because of the jarring chicken scratch I’d put on the page. Personally, I like it this way, but I could improve it if I really wanted to — there are tons of free videos online with practical advice on how to make your handwriting neater or at least more pleasant looking. Since we live and die by our keyboards now, having nicer handwriting is really only something for you to enjoy. 

My Empire of Dirt

If you’ve really got some time on your hands and a yard to work with, you could attempt to make one of these insane dirt creations. These videos tend to go viral on Facebook and Instagram, and despite having “how to” in the title they aren’t actually very informative, but hypothetically you could watch their technique and try it for yourself. This one actually isn’t dumb at all — it’s just dumb of you to think you might actually be able to do it, or that you wouldn’t inevitably be killed by your creation if you did.

Backflip in Five 

C’mon, it’ll only take five minutes! Just give it a try! I don’t have the space in my apartment to attempt this, but I’d love to see you give it a go. 

How to Be Bill Nye

This is an actual course from MIT on how to do as Bill Nye did and develop an educational television program. It’s designed to take 10 hours, and by the end, you’ll have prepared a five-minute-long educational video ready to make you a science star. Broadening it from Nye, though, this course is actually super practical in that it teaches you how to tell a story, engage an audience and do some basic video production. So, could just be for fun, could actually be useful in your career. Mostly, though, you should just pretend to be Bill Nye. 

Or, Whatever the Hell You Want

If none of these suit your fancy, there’s literally thousands of other options out there. You could also take a course or two that won’t teach any skills at all — “Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity,” “Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology” and “Pyramids of Giza: Ancient Egyptian Art and Archaeology” are just a few of the many other courses that seem crazy interesting. They’d definitely give you something new to talk about during your next Zoom happy hour. Having cool things to talk about is a skill in itself!