TIME human behavior

Are There Really Benefits to Writing Things By Hand?

Writing by hand on chalkboard
Jeffrey Coolidge / Getty Images Is writing by hand really psychologically beneficial?

A new Bic commercial claims four benefits to writing by hand.

Most office-working adults in America spend their days hunched over a computer, tapping at keys to form words on a screen. Very few use a notebook or spend time writing. Even those of us whose professional occupation is “writer” tend to spend far less time writing with a pen in hand than they do typing.

Of course, as with so many things that are perceived as old-timey, writing by hand has become if not a modern necessity, then a trend. Cursive lessons have become all the vogue in some circles and is credited with helping dyslexic students. J. K. Rowling famously wrote the Harry Potter series on napkins. Handwriting has been elevated to the highest levels of art, be it the digitally collected ecriture infinie or Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit on artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s notebooks.

Jumping on the bandwagon too is Bic, the pen company, which has launched a campaign to get kids to write. Called “Fight for the Write,” the campaign boasts a video featuring a boy inspiring a classroom of kids through a series of “interesting facts” that show the benefits of writing: increased creativity, better critical thinking, boosted self confidence, and a correlated improvement in reading capability with writing prowess.

But are these benefits real? The short answer: Mostly not. “There’s lot of caveats in handwriting research,” says Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University who studies early childhood brain development at Indiana University and has looked at how writing by hand affects pre-literate brains.

The creativity claim is most likely a stretch because measuring creativity is nearly impossible. “How are you defining creativity?” James says. “There’s all kinds of ways to: across individuals, ages, contexts—social, academic. It’s really hard to study, so that [claim] is a stretch.”

Intuitively, the idea that handwriting can improve critical thinking makes sense: Writing more would seem to entail thinking more thoroughly about topics and journaling, we know, has been shown to be excellent for introspection. But while writing by hand has been shown to be a good exercise for introspection, the evidence of writing out homework assignments remains very muddled.

As for self-confidence: writing and reading comprehension are neurally connected, and better readers often have more academic self-confidence. “If a kindergartner is reading at a first grade level, they do better academically, which means they have more confidence in their ability to perform,” James says. “The more children write, the easier it is for them to recognize a letter. Letter recognition is the highest predictor to reading later on.”

So there is merit in this claim. But on its own, writing probably does little to boost self-confidence. More likely, James says, is that increased creativity and self-confidence are secondary, correlated effects.

In 2012, James published a study along with her co-author, Laura Engelhardt, that began: “In an age of increasing technology, the possibility that typing on a keyboard will replace handwriting raises questions about the future usefulness of handwriting skills.”

James and Engelhardt found that writing is particularly instrumental in the cognitive development of pre-literate 5 year olds. The kids, who were learning the alphabet, wrote, traced, and typed letters. MRI scans found that the kids who had written letters were able to perceive the letters better, helping them to read at better rates compared to the typers and tracers.

Still, since control groups are impossible in reading and writing studies—you can’t decide to not teach some kids to read or write—“It’s tricky,” James says.

The parts of the brain activated when children learn to write—the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex—are the same that are active in older children and adults when they are reading. James wanted to know whether reading affected writing or the other way around. “That’s why we looked at [pre-literate] kids,” she said. “We didn’t know if reading came first and activated this network for handwriting of if it was vice versa. We found that reading networks are activated when reading happens, and writing uses that network.”

So while the idea of writing by hand and its memory-enhancing capabilities have been covered—and studied—ad nauseum, the effects of writing on other mental indicators are less understood. Research is correlational. “We don’t really have facts, we have evidence,” says James. “But it’s highly suggestive evidence.”

TIME Education

3 Reasons to Register for SAT Writing Test

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It can help you stand out from other applicants

Beginning in the spring of 2016, both the ACT and the SAT will no longer require a Writing sub-test – the much-dreaded essay will be purely voluntary. Despite this change in policy, there are several great reasons to still take the optional Writing section. Here are three:

It is still required by certain schools

Deciding whether or not to register for the Writing sub-test may be as simple as reviewing the admissions requirements for your short list of schools. Some colleges will state that the Writing section is a requirement for consideration, while others will specify that the sub-test will not be considered, regardless of your performance. Other schools will state that it is optional or recommended.

Still, this can be a challenging scenario. If you take the ACT/SAT Writing section, and you do poorly, you score could be a hindrance on applications to those colleges and universities that recommend the sub-test or view it as optional (as there is no way to send just some of your results). If your short list of schools later changes, you might waste your time and energy on preparing for an unnecessary exercise (if you opt for the Writing section and later do not need it). If, on the other hand, you excel on the multiple-choice portions, and find that you are competitive for more selective schools that require the written sub-test, you may be unable to apply (if you initially opt against the Writing section).

Your best option is perhaps to use your PSAT scores as a proxy for the ACT and SAT, and to see which colleges and universities fall within your range. If any schools that are a strong maybe consider the Writing sub-test, it is likely worth your while to register for and complete the section.

It can allow you to demonstrate your skills and your determination

The Common Application – and, in fact, almost all college applications – includes a personal statement. This essay can be an excellent opportunity to ensure that the real you stands out from your application data and list of accomplishments. The personal statement’s secondary purpose is ostensibly to prove that you can write at a college level. Of course, admissions officers know that students have months to refine their essays.

The Writing portion of the ACT and SAT, in contrast, is completed under pressure with significant constraints on time and topic. It is often in pressure tests that real skill emerges. Being able to analyze a passage and compose an essay may not be a perfect predictor of collegiate success, but it is indicative of facility with writing.

Whether you should take the ACT/SAT Writing sub-test is another question. If a school on your short list indicates that it will consider the Writing portion of either standardized test, then it is usually in your best interests to register for it.

If you do well, the benefit is obvious. If you perform satisfactorily, you can still earn an advantage simply by attempting a difficult task. Remember that most colleges and universities have far more applicants than seats. Standing out in a sea of prospective students can be a challenge when you have similar application data and average participation levels in extracurricular activities. Taking the optional Writing sub-test is one way to demonstrate that you are not afraid of difficult academic work. Even if you do not do markedly well, your willingness to try can separate you from your fellow applicants who saw the word “optional” and never engaged with the task.

It can help you account for a poor grade

Sometimes, great students earn bad grades. Great students can be distracted by major life events, and they can neglect their homework and projects as a result. Of course, there are also people who realize in the middle of their junior year of high school that they should have made much more of an effort in their English classes. Deciding to take the Writing exam can be one way to demonstrate that the low grade you earned in a single class was an aberration. At the very least, you will be able to demonstrate the seriousness of your intent to improve. If you participate in an interview, you will still need to have an explanation for your prior poor performance, but the Writing section can suggest that you are a proactive and reflective student.

If you do decide to take the ACT/SAT Writing sub-test, be sure to prepare adequately. While any attempt may seem better than none at all, the reality is that a truly poor performance on this section can harm your college applications. Even if your other admissions metrics (i.e. grades) are strong, a poor score on the Writing exam can serve as a warning sign. In other words, if you are going to do it, be sure to do it well. Research the task, practice, and write your heart out.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.

More from Varsity Tutors:

TIME Education

How To Be More Innovative in 21st Century Learning

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Try connecting the dots between science and humanities

Today’s college students may benefit from an exciting array of subjects to study. But they seem to miss the most important education of all: how to relate their specialization to others in an increasingly interconnected world.

The National Academy of Engineering has categorically stated that today’s engineers need to be more than individuals who simply “like math and science.” They must be “creative problem-solvers” who help “shape our future” by improving our “health, happiness, and safety.”

And in 2001, the engineering accreditation body ABET added a new criterion so as to ensure that students get “the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.”

The point is that the connections between humanities and science have been lost in today’s separation of disciplines. Indeed, a recent report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences discovered that humanities and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) training majors largely dwell in different silos.

So, where and how did we lose our way? And how can educators and institutions change things?

Separation of disciplines

The founders of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) were well aware of the critical nature of this interdependence.

When the NEH and the National Science Foundation (NSF) were established in the 1950s and ‘60s, the NEH founders wrote:

If the interdependence of science and the humanities were more generally understood, men would be more likely to become masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.

These founders, hailing from leading universities as well as the US Atomic Energy Commission, IBM Corp and New York Life Insurance, knew that connecting the humanities and sciences helps us make informed judgments about our control of nature, ourselves and our destiny.

But, since the 1980s, political rhetoric has emphasized the need for less humanities and more STEM education. STEM is painted as a more profitable investment, in terms of job creation and research dollars generated.

A notable example is the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative, which both isolates and prioritizes the STEM disciplines from the humanities, arts and social sciences.

This rhetoric is also evident in the creation of separate political education organizations such as the bipartisan STEM Education Caucus founded several years ago by congressional representatives to strengthen STEM education from kindergarten to the workforce.

This separation of disciplines actually hurts education, and it also hurts our ability to innovate and solve big problems.

Connecting STEM with humanities doesn’t just provide the well-rounded education today’s employers want. As the American Academy of Arts and Science’s 2013 “The Heart of the Matter” report observes, connecting these fields is necessary to solve the world’s biggest problems such as “the provision of clean air and water, food, health, energy, universal education, human rights, and the assurance of physical safety.”

So, separating and prioritizing STEM from humanities ignores the fact that we live in a complex social and cultural world. And many different disciplines must combine to address this world’s needs and challenges.

Bringing the disciplines together

To address this gap, four years ago the faculty from materials engineering and liberal arts at the University of Florida began working with the Materials Research Society. We wanted to put together a new course on “materials.”

Why did we choose materials? Because everything is made of them, every discipline studies them and they are tangible (quite literally) to the average freshman.

After all, grade school students still learn about the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages. The Industrial and Information revolutions revolved around new uses for steel, aluminum and silicon. The human past has been shaped by harnessing and consuming materials and energy.

Materials will be important for our collective future as well. So, we thought, this is the future for which we should be preparing students.

And thus our course, The Impact of Materials on Society (IMOS), was born. Taught by a team of nine faculty from engineering, humanities and social sciences, the course explores the close connection between the “stuff” in our lives and our experiences as social beings.

Students discuss how materials benefit global trade and communication but also risk resource exploitation and political conflict. For example, we depend upon rare earths for our cellphones, iPads and wind farms, but accessing these rare earths from limited sources is not sustainable.

So, some of the questions that the course raises are: what materials do we depend upon in our daily lives? Does this dependence have social consequences? What social relationships form around the production and use of these materials? And how do our current uses of materials affect our ability to discover new uses for them?

Students are also asked to consider how our values shape our willingness to adopt new technologies. For example, Earl Tupper may have invented Tupperware, but it was Brownie Wise and her home parties with other women who first made his polymer famous!

Each week covers a different material (eg, clay, glass, gold, plastic), its scientific properties, demonstrations, and its past and present impacts.

Working together in multidisciplinary groups, students then contemplate the development of future materials. These include flexible electronic materials that can be used to create wearable sensors that can transmit important information, such as body hydration levels during athletic training. New polymer (plastic) materials made from renewable sources instead of petroleum may have fewer health risks and are more sustainable than today’s plastic cups and bottles.

At the same time, they discuss the ethical and social considerations that might affect the successful production and adoption of these new materials in different contexts.

Gap in education

The course is different from other freshman-oriented courses. It is not a “history course for engineers.” And it is not an “engineering course for humanists.”

It is an interdisciplinary course that uses multiple perspectives to understand materials innovation. A wide range of departments including engineering, anthropology, classics, history, English, sociology and philosophy participate in its teaching.

Students refer to IMOS as a “bridge course” that provides the “connecting dots” between different classes.

And the responses come from students across the different majors. For instance, one engineering major noted, “This class just further proves that you have to understand different aspects of how our world works and not just engineering to be a great engineer.”

Meanwhile a history major observed, “This class gives me a leg up in my other history courses because it reminds me to think about the properties of materials and how they shape our lives.”

These experiences point to a gaping hole in modern education: discipline-specific and general education courses provide important knowledge, but “bridging courses” are needed for students to capitalize upon that knowledge.

To engineer useful technologies, we need to connect scientific study with the cultural competencies of the humanities and social sciences.

Challenges of 21st-century learning

The “Renaissance” ideal was to produce elite men whose broad training prepared them for any endeavor. Thankfully, 21st-century education is more inclusive.

But it still requires intellectual and cognitive flexibility to harness large amounts of data.

This doesn’t mean simply knowing everything, even though we live in the “Age of Google.” Today, students need the ability to make connections across disciplines.

Celebrated innovators such as Einstein, Ada Lovelace and Steve Jobs credit the intersection of disciplines for their inventive thinking.

More boundary-crossing opportunities in higher education can break open the disciplinary silos. And that alone will unleash critical thinking and innovation.

Additional contributors to this article are University of Florida faculty Sean Adams, Marsha Bryant, Florin Curta, Mary Ann Eaverly, Bonnie Effros and Ken Sassaman, and Materials Research Society Outreach Coordinator Pamela Hupp.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Venomous Spiders Shut Down a Pennsylvania School

Recluse spider or Brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa), Sicariidae.
Rebecca Hardy—De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images Recluse spider or Brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa), Sicariidae.

Brown recluse spiders were found in the school for the third time

(MERCERSBURG, Pa.)—A Pennsylvania school district has closed one of its elementary schools due to an infestation of venomous spiders.

WHTM-TV reports this is the third time brown recluse spiders were found at Montgomery Elementary School in Mercersburg.

The Tuscarora School District made the decision to close the school Tuesday after officials met with the district’s pest control management company. The company found five to six spiders in the school’s library in mid-July. They were also found last year at different times in the lunchroom kitchen and the boiler room.

Superintendent Dr. Charles Prijatelj says crews are spraying pesticides outside the school and the district plans to fog the entire building. Staff have already sealed cracks in the school’s walls

Steve Miller, of Home Paramount Pest Control, says the spider bites are usually painless but it produces an ulcer. The spider is not native to the region.

TIME Education

The University of Phoenix Is Under Federal Investigation

The main building of the University of Phoenix, part of Apollo Group Inc., is seen in Phoenix on Oct. 14, 2010.
Joshua Lott—Bloomberg/Getty Images The main building of the University of Phoenix, part of Apollo Group Inc., is seen in Phoenix on Oct. 14, 2010.

The online college is under scrutiny for possible deceptive or unfair business practices

WASHINGTON — The University of Phoenix, an online college popular among military veterans, is under federal investigation for possible deceptive or unfair business practices, its parent company the Apollo Education Group announced Wednesday.

The for-profit, publicly traded company is the largest recipient of federal student aid for veterans and often a sponsor at military education and employment events. Since 2009 when the GI bill expanded student aid benefits for veterans, the University of Phoenix has taken in more than $488 million in tuition and fees — a figure that dwarfs nearly every other institution identified as a GI recipient by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company told shareholders that it received a “civil investigative demand” from the Federal Trade Commission this week. According to the document, investigators asked for information on a “broad spectrum” of matters, including marketing, recruiting, enrollment, financial aid, tuition, academic programs, billing and debt collection, as well other facets of the business. The filing lists “military recruitment” as one of the areas the FTC is examining.

The filing said Apollo is “evaluating the demand and intends to cooperate fully with the FTC.”

Apollo and the FTC declined to comment further.

The FTC probe is the latest of many state and federal investigations into the for-profit college industry. Critics say many of these colleges are aggressive in recruiting students who qualify for large amounts of federal student aid, including GI money. The credits often don’t transfer to other schools and aren’t recognized by employers.

Industry officials say they are unfairly being scrutinized, and say for-profit schools have expanded education opportunities to communities who wouldn’t otherwise have access.

On July 1, new federal rules went into effect for any school with a career-training program. Graduates have to be able to earn enough money to repay their student loans, or a school risks losing access to financial aid.

TIME justice

Obama Administration Could Expand Pell Grant Eligibility to Prisoners

Arne Duncan Obama prisoners pell grants
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with President Obama at the White House, in March 2015.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan hinted recently that administration is “developing experimental sites” that would make Pell Grants available to prisoners

The Obama administration could soon unveil a plan that would make federal college grants available to prisoners.

On Monday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hinted during a policy speech that the administration is “developing experimental sites” that would, among other things, make Pell Grants available to “incarcerated adults seeking an independent, productive life after they get out of jail.”

The Wall Street Journal reports the announcement could come as soon as Friday, when Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are slated to make a joint appearance at a prison in Maryland on Friday.

The move would be the latest attempt by the Obama administration to provide opportunities to prisoners that could help reduce the national recidivism rate. According to Inside Higher Ed, six House Democrats introduced a bill in May that would expand Pell Grant eligibility to those behind bars. Congress blocked prisoners from Pell Grant eligibility in the 1990s.

TIME Science

This Affects Your Ability to Do Well on Exams

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Differences in academic exam results are—to a large extent—explained by differences in people’s DNA

Could it be that genetic differences can affect how well children perform in exams? Our research suggests that this may well be the case and that individual differences between children are, to a large extent, due to the inherited genetic differences between them that predisposes them to do well academically, whatever the subject.

We also found that there is shared genetic influence across a range of subjects, even after controlling the exam results for general intelligence.

It goes without saying that children’s exam results at the end of compulsory education play a significant role in their future education and career paths. And it is also reasonable to assume that schools play a major role in school achievement. But children differ in educational achievement within the same school – and even the same classroom. This suggests that factors other than school or classroom differences explain the wide variation in pupils’ exam results.

Our new research, published in Scientific Reports, examined the GCSE results, using classical twin method, that compares the correlations between identical and non-identical twins, and found that individual differences in exam results are to a large extent explained by the inherited differences in children’s DNA sequence.

We also found that many of the same genes influence achievement across a range of subjects – so, children who tend to do well in one subject tend to do well in others, largely for genetic reasons.

Previous research using data from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), found that there is substantial heritability for educational achievement in early and middle school years. Heritability is a population statistic, which describes the extent to which differences between children can be explained by the differences in their DNA, on average, in a particular population at a particular time.

So, for example, a heritability of 90%, means that 90% of individual differences observed in a group of people for a trait are explained by genetic differences between them and 10% explained by environmental factors. What it doesn’t tell us, is anything about an individual.

We already knew, based on our research which was published in 2007, (based on a UK representative sample of 7,500 twins pairs who were tested at the ages of 7, 9, and 12) that the average heritability for literacy and numeracy is almost 70%. In other words, more than two-thirds of the variation seen in academic test results is explained by genetic differences between children.

Further research from 2013 also found that educational achievement, as measured by standardised exams (GCSEs), at age 16 is also substantially heritable, with genetic factors explaining about 60% of the variance in results of the core subjects of English, mathematics and sciences.

How genes influence achievement

Our new study sought to determine whether the high heritability of core academic subjects also extends to various other subjects, such as history and geography, which involve more fact-based knowledge – or art, music and drama, which are more subjective subjects.

We analysed achievement data from the twins in TEDS to assess the extent to which genetic factors influence various school subjects – and, in particular, GCSE exam results.

We found that genes explain a larger proportion of the differences between children across different subjects (54-65%) than shared environmental factors, such as home and school environment combined (14-21%).

However, it’s important to stress that heritability is a population statistic and this does not mean that genetics explain 54-65% of a single child’s school achievement. But it does indicate that differences in academic exam results are, to a large extent, explained by differences in people’s DNA.

Our study indicates that this substantial heritability for school exams is not explained by intelligence alone, as heritability for GCSE grades for all subjects remained substantial even after statistically removing the intelligence scores from the exam results. This finding is in line with our previous research in which we found a similar result for the mandatory subjects of English, maths and science.

We had also found that heritability of GCSE exam results involves the joint contribution of many other factors, including children’s self-efficacy, or pupil’s belief in his/her abilities, behavioural problems, personality traits, well-being, and their perceptions of school environment – as well as their intelligence.

Although our results cannot be applied directly to classroom teaching right now, they do, however, add to the growing knowledge of why children differ so widely in educational achievement.

Same genes, range of subjects

Our new results also indicate that achievement across a wide range of academic subjects including English, mathematics, science, humanities, second languages, business and art are influenced by many of the same genes.

This shared genetic influence is, to a large extent, independent of intelligence, suggesting that there is a genetically driven “general academic achievement factor”. This means that its largely down to genetic reasons that children who tend to do well in one subject also tend to do well in others even when different levels of intelligence is controlled.

Our findings could also facilitate molecular genetic research that aims to identify the genes responsible for academic achievement by focusing on achievement across different subjects, rather than focusing only on a specific subject such as mathematics or English.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

George Washington University Drops Admissions Test Requirements

A growing number of schools no longer require the ACT or the SAT

Students applying to George Washington University will no longer have to submit SAT and ACT scores for the upcoming application cycle, a reflection of the school’s desire to increase access to disadvantaged students who typically do not do as well on standardized tests, the school announced Wednesday. According to the new policy, students who want to send their SAT and ACT scores are free to do so.

“Although we have long employed a holistic application review process, we had concerns that students who could be successful at GW felt discouraged from applying if their scores were not as strong as their high school performance,” Dean of Admissions Karen Stroud Felton told the Washington Post “We want outstanding students from all over the world and from all different backgrounds–regardless of their standardized scores–to recognize GW as a place where they can thrive.”

Many schools now choose to go test-optional because they believe they can recruit an equally strong student body, without requiring standardized tests that tend to disadvantage minority students and students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds.

“I have to question why having less information to make a decision is a good thing. To me, for a good decision, you want as much information as possible” ACT President Jon L. Erickson told the Post.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, an organization that supports test-optional policies, more than 800 four-year colleges are flexible about applicants submitting test scores

Along with schools that require no test scores, “test-flexible” schools like New York University allow students to choose between submitting the SAT, the ACT, or SAT subject test or AP scores.




TIME Parenting

How to Get Your Kids to Actually DO Summer Reading

reading in the park
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It doesn't have to be a chore

As anyone will tell you, kids who don’t read over the summer actively lose some of what they learned the year before.

Summer reading lists are great, and the world is full of them, including this one from the American Library Association. But how can parents get their kids to turn to books when there are so many other distractions that beckon them?

Parents don’t have time for boring newsletters. Sign up for Time For Parents, a fun weekly roundup of parenting news and tips.

With elementary age kids, says literacy advocate Jen Robinson, it’s good to read aloud – even long after kids can read for themselves. “Kids who are read to even after they can read on their own are more likely to continue to enjoy reading as they get older,” she says. And “reading together gives families a common vocabulary, and a springboard for all kinds of interesting discussions.” Parents can get their kids to think about the book with questions like “What do you think will happen next? Do you think that was a good ending?”

Middle school kids probably don’t want to have their parents read aloud to them. But there’s no reason parents can’t read along with them, says Andrew Medlar, president of the American Library Service to Children. At this age, “aspirational reading is very big,” he says: kids are “wanting to be grown up, and be perceived as grown up, and learn about what the teen and grown up world is all about.” It’s a great time for parents to pick up the same book their kids are reading, and start a conversation about it.

Kid not a reader at all? Try Tech Hacks to Help Struggling Readers

High school students are starting to become more independent, Medlar says. So it’s a key time to leave reading materials out that “they can discover.” They also have a lot more reading for school, Robinson observes. So parents can start conversations with them about “how to find time for pleasure reading–and how to keep the assigned reading” from feeling like “drudgery”–so that kids develop, and keep, a lifelong love of reading.

TIME Careers & Workplace

8 Free Online Resources That Will Help You Advance Your Career

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Pick up a new language, learn to code or develop a financial plan

Whether you want to gain industry knowledge or pick up some new skills, there are plenty of resources online that will allow you to learn at your own pace without having to pay any fees.

From Glassdoor’s job review database to Codeacademy’s programming classes, we’ve rounded up our favorite free online resources for boosting your career.

1. Glassdoor

Glassdoor provides employee reviews of companies of all sizes with insight into what it’s like to work there, as well as compensation data. You can use the info to prepare for job interviews or to negotiate your salary.

Discover job opportunities >>

2. Khan Academy

A Khan Academy account will get you access to hundreds of video lectures and exercises on a wide variety of topics, many of them narrated by the site’s founder and executive director Sal Khan.

The site is especially useful if you want to learn specific topics rather than an entire subject, like how the stock market works and how to build a balance sheet.

Gain some practical knowledge >>

3. Coursera and edX

Coursera and edX may be competitors, but they’re both worth checking out for their selection of in-depth courses from top universities like Stanford and UPenn.

Many courses are also highly practical rather than theoretical, like “Successful Negotiation” from the University of Michigan on Coursera or “Communicating Strategically” from Purdue on edX.

Explore Coursera >>

Explore edX >>

4. Codeacademy

Taking an introductory class in coding isn’t going to get you a top engineering job at Google, but it could help you understand the mechanics of what you’re working with every day, demystifying how software and websites function.

It’s a great way to learn languages like HTML and CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, PHP, Python, and Ruby. Whether you want to become fluent in HTML to better maneuver your company’s content management system or take skill-based classes like how to build an interactive website, Codeacademy will help you get there.

Learn how to code >>

5. LearnVest

Working for your paycheck is one thing, but if you want to learn how to make your paycheck work for you, LearnVest is a great resource. While you can purchase financial advisory services, its free in-depth articles will answer most of your general personal finance questions.

If you never learned how to budget or want to develop a retirement plan, LearnVest has you covered.

Develop healthy financial habits >>

6. Investopedia

Investopedia can be your go-to resource for learning about the world of finance. If you’d like to start taking advantage of compound interest or compound growth but can’t tell a mutual fund from a hedge fund, you can explore Investopedia’s many guides, instructional videos, and encyclopedia entries.

Grow your financial vocabulary >>

7. Y Combinator Startup Library

If you’re considering leaving your job to start your own business or are just wondering what it would be like to have a fun side project, Y Combinator’s Startup Library is a good place to get an idea of what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Y Combinator is a seed fund that puts promising entrepreneurs through a rigorous bootcamp-like period that ends with a pitch to investors for serious amounts of capital. Its website’s free library features insightful blog posts from YC cofounder Paul Graham on creating and developing companies, as well as links to external sources, like a guide to writing the perfect business plan from renowned Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia Capital.

Pursue your entrepreneurial drive >>

8. Duolingo

Maybe your company opened a new office in Germany that could provide an exciting career opportunity you’ve been waiting for, but you don’t know a word of German. Before pursuing an advanced course, you can learn the basics for free from Duolingo.

A 2012 independent study conducted by Roumen Vesselinov of the City University of New York and John Grego of the University of South Carolina found that 34 hours spent with Duolingo are equivalent to an 11-week semester of a language course.

Learn a new language >>

This article originally appeared on Business Insider

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