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Check out these online tools to help you learn a new skill while sheltering at home

Joe Supan

Apr 26, 2020 — 4 min read

Social distancing provides a great opportunity to learn a new skill or hobby. These online tools will help you engage your brain while you’re stuck inside.

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Life in the social distancing era has opened up a lot of free time around the world. We know a lot of that is being filled with binge-watching the latest TV shows and movies, but it’s also a great opportunity to pick up a new skill or hobby. 

Fortunately, just about everything can now be learned from the comfort of your home. We’ve highlighted some of the most popular options for home-bound skills and hobbies, along with the tools that are most effective in helping you acquire them. 

Learn a new language 

You don’t need any fancy equipment to learn a new language — just some time and housemates who are willing to listen to you work your way through a new alphabet. There are a ton of language-learning tools out there, but two of the most popular are Rosetta Stone and DuoLingo, both of which earned Editor’s Choice honors from PC Mag in their roundup of the best language learning software

Rosetta Stone is virtually synonymous with self-guided language instruction. The company has been around since 1992 when it sold its courses on CD-ROMs. Rosetta Stone has 28 languages to choose from and even comes with online tutoring sessions if you’d prefer some hands-on instruction. 

The only downside is the price. Rosetta Stone is a little more expensive than other services. It costs $35.97 for three months, $179 for one year and $249 for two years, and you have to pay it all upfront. You can also buy a lifetime of unlimited language courses for $299. 

If that’s more than you’re looking to pay, Duolingo is a free service with over 30 languages available to learn. It’s primarily used on mobile apps, where you’ll get notifications urging you to complete daily lessons and even podcasts and interactive short stories for some languages. 

Learn an instrument

One of the best things you can do to keep yourself engaged during quarantine is to pick up an instrument. 

“There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does,” said one Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist (a doctor who specializes in the ear, nose and throat). “If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.”

Whether you have a long-ignored acoustic guitar in the house or you want to order a brand new instrument, now’s the perfect time to sharpen your musical skills. Luckily, there are near-endless resources on the internet to help you fine-tune your playing or learn from scratch. (If you’re not sure where to start, the guitar, piano, harmonica and ukulele are known as some of the easiest instruments for beginners to pick up.)

YouTube is a virtual goldmine for music lessons. Just search the instrument you want to pick up, plus something like “for beginners” or “lessons.” Apps like JoyTunes, Yousician and Uberchord all provide structured lessons and goals, too. They all have a free version, but you can usually pay for extra features. 

If you’d rather take lessons with a real person, there are plenty of options for that, too. Lessonface, Musika and Take Lessons all offer live one-on-one sessions through video chat. Lessons generally cost around $50/hr., although you can also sign up for shorter sessions. 

Take better photos

With cameras in our pockets at all times, we’re all amateur photographers now. So why not brush up on some of those photo skills while you have some time?

Nikon offers a number of free online photography classes with topics like creating video content, photographing children and pets and fundamentals of photography. If you’re looking for something a little more in-depth, check out the New York Institute of Photography’s online classes. The courses are prepared by expert photographers and take you through the subject one lesson at a time. You can even get one-on-one support from your instructor. Each course typically comes with around five units and costs around $500.

Learn from the experts

Ever wonder what it would be like to learn about filmmaking from Martin Scorsese? How about having Steph Curry teach you how to shoot a basketball? What if Annie Leibovitz showed you how to take better photos?

MasterClass makes those dreams a reality. The app gathers over 80 of the world’s top experts to pass on the lessons they’ve learned in their fields. Each course has about 20 lessons, all of which last around 10 minutes. Topics are as wide-ranging as interior design, business strategy and gymnastics fundamentals. Annual membership costs $180 and gets you unlimited access to everything on MasterClass. 

If you’d rather take one-on-one lessons from well-known experts, Live Lesson Masters provides personal courses through video chat, with subjects like music, wellness and cooking. 

Use your local library

Just because your library is likely temporarily closed doesn’t mean you can’t still take advantage of its resources. Many library systems have partnerships with sites like Lynda.com, which provides courses in hundreds of subjects, from graphic design to public speaking. Check out what your library system offers by going to its home page and searching around for digital partnerships.

For more resources to help keep you busy during social distancing, bookmark our Resource Center, and follow our experts on Facebook and Twitter.