Make a fresh start in September with free course to self-improvement

SEPTEMBER heralds the end of the summer and the beginning of the new school year. Even for those of us long gone from education, there is a fresh start feeling to this time of year. In many ways this is a much better time to make resolutions than the New Year, writes Gráinne McGuinness.

Hopefully rested after the summer and with the cold nights still a while away, it is a more optimistic time than the post-Christmas lull. Some may be keen to try a new hobby or learn a skill for career advancement, for others it is the perennial aims to get fit or lose weight. There are adult education courses starting all over the country, from low-cost evening courses to part-time university masters degrees. But, thanks to the internet, there are also many options available to people for free.

If you are keen to learn a new skill for work, an Irish provider founded in Galway should be your first port of call. Alison.com has helped millions of learners and currently has more than 800 free courses available.

They range from short courses that take only a couple of hours to complete to diplomas that you can complete at your own pace, over a number of weeks or months. They have courses in computer programming, hotel management, business Japanese and much more. No matter what your area of interest, there is likely to be a course on Alison for you, free and available whenever you want it.

The Irish site is just one of many providing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Other sites worth checking out are Udemy.com and Futurelearn.com. MOOCs are also an option if you want to learn for your own enjoyment rather than career advancement.

There are courses to teach you how to play any number of musical instruments or develop skills in everything from photography to baking. So why not join your kids at the table doing homework? By Christmas you could have discovered a whole new talent or passion.

If you are intent on making changes to your body, there is plenty of help available online. RTÉ are currently airing Celebrity Operation Transformation and their accompanying website is a mine information.

So much online advice around food can be faddy in the extreme, with a focus on ‘clean eating’ and eliminating certain foods. The OT meal plan is simple and doable, and provides weekly shopping lists for Irish supermarkets, making preparation a cinch. The site also contains a wealth of information; tools such as a bmi calculator and weight tracker, and there are exercise schedules set by fitness trainer Karl Henry.

The App store is a good port of call to anyone interested in getting fit. We all know how easy it is to choose a training plan but actually sticking to it can be tricky. If you have an app downloaded on your phone it is easy to access and helps keep you focused. One hugely popular app is the 30-Day Fitness Challenge.

Available for both Apple and Android, it is rated an impressive 4.8 out of five stars and was designed by a professional fitness coach. It reminds you to workout every day, records training progress automatically and offers detailed video guides to exercises that can be done at home without specialist equipment. For those who are trying to fit exercise into a hectic life, the 7 Minute Workout app is also hugely popular, promising “maximum results with minimal investment”.

For many of us, learning to manage stress and reduce anxiety would have a larger impact on our lives than anything mentioned above. If you are struggling with your mental health, then Headspace is an app worth considering.

Unlike the other suggestions, there is a cost. You can download the app for free and try out their basic meditation but to get more you have to subscribe, from €7.91 per month, depending on the option you choose.

But I have had it recommended to me by a number of friends who struggle with anxiety or other issues and they are not alone. It is rated at 4.7 out of five stars and has been downloaded more than five million times worldwide. The app promises to guide you through meditation techniques, with hundreds of options available, dealing with everything from insomnia to motivation.

DEAL OF THE WEEK

Energia is introducing the Cosy Homes Scheme to make homes more energy-efficient, so customers can save on utility bills this autumn.

Energia’s Cosy Homes Scheme provides a one-stop-shop for home-energy efficiency upgrades, from the initial audit to managing grant applications and carrying out all the works, in partnership with House2Home.

These services are available to both new and existing Energia customers.

Householders can make savings through a combination of SEAI grant-funding and Energia customer discounts.

Energia can provide attic insulation, for example, at a saving of €500 on the recommended retail price.

Energia has already supported over 10,000 efficiency upgrades in homes across Ireland, resulting in annual saving of over €1.2m on energy bills.

Energia is also currently offering the Netatmo home heating thermostat free of charge with all boiler services. Consumers can find out more by visiting www.energia.ie.


More in this Section

Battle of the bog: Those who fought for access to the bathroom

Online Lives: Meet beauty and body therapist Rachael Butler of rachsbeautique.com

How to outsource Christmas

Michael Murphy on his new book, love and marriage at 70


Lifestyle

Cork photographer in the frame for top prize

Battle of the bog: Those who fought for access to the bathroom

A towering achievement: Exploring Irish castles and beautiful buildings

Books that belong on the gardener's bookshelf

More From The Irish Examiner