How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?  – Matt Groening

Spring here in my neck of the woods is heralded by the annual reconnecting of the TV antenna, the cable having been cut by an overly efficient snowplow operator some time back in November – the first time was a bit of an annoyance but has, over the years, become something of a ritual; a way to mark the passage of the seasons. Spring also brings a brief lull in work – as the rural client base prepares for planting – that makes finding time to attend continuing legal education (CLE) programs a bit less onerous.

For those who have yet to attend a CLE, they are a unique educational experience in which one spends an inordinate amount of time sitting in anatomically incorrect chairs in a room where the environmental conditions (heat, humidity, lighting, ambient sound levels, etc) will not be to anyone’s liking trying to learn something.

For the rural solo (perhaps for most solos), CLEs represent a significant investment in terms of time, travel, and lost opportunity; for me the standard 9 to 5 CLE means I’m looking at a 12 hour day. If the time in incentive enough to cause me to pay attention, there’s the cost of the course, the drive in real rush hour traffic,and the indescribable joy of hunting for parking downtown in a major metropolis – oh, and there is always a chance that, heaven forbid, I might learn something.

So, I am always amazed by the number of CLE attendees who “work” during a CLE session – at least I like to assume that it is work – a much more noble fantasy as opposed to putting the final touches on their fantasy cricket team, or cruising HotLawyerBabes.com.

In a way I have to feel for those lawyers whose schedules are so tight and work loads so heavy that they cannot unplug for a few hours and simply relax and listen. I can understand the behavior; after all the chief requirement to get the CLE credit is to leave breathing so it is quite tempting to do a little profitable work during all that down time. But I am left wondering – is any really meaningful work accomplished?

To be fair, I do have to note that there seems to be a relationship between the substantive nature of the material and the number of attendees doing the work thing. It seems that, no matter how monotonous the speaker, everyone pays attention during case law review sessions, and ironically, the highest number of working attendees can usually be found in sessions covering work-life balance and stress reduction.

Ten Sites For Free College Courses

First the disclaimer: none of these sites provide you with either CLE or college credit. What they do provide are college-level courses at no cost and they are all designed around the idea that the general dissemination of knowledge is a good thing. So whether you are looking to learn a new language (to improve client communication) or just pick up an introduction to a subject you are curious about, these ten sites should help.

1. OpenCourseWare Consortium

A collaboration of more than 200 higher education institutions and associated organizations from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model. Links to the participating members’ course can be found here.

2. Open Culture

Emphasizes educational materials directed towards culture, the arts, and entertainment.

3. Academic Earth

Lectures in the Sciences, Law, Mathematics, Religion and Politics. Continue reading