Most people equate "education" with "school," i.e. a brick edifice filled with teachers dispensing knowledge. A true education, however, consists of acquiring what Dorothy Sayers called the "tools of learning" and then using those tools for the rest of one's life as an independent learner. Thus a true education is a lifetime of learning through reading, networking, and experience.
Learn by Reading
First, read! As a lifelong learner, I have always been a voracious reader. When I want to know something new, I seek out a variety of print and internet resources in order to engage in what Mortimer Adler called "syntopical reading" or the wise use of many books to serve one's purpose. Without sitting in a classroom, I have learned about historical costuming, the history of housework in America, how to teach reading to children with different learning styles, and how to compare various strategies for dealing with depression. I enjoy searching for old, obscure resources and utilizing the latest in technology. All the while, of course, I am separating the wheat from the chaff, as not all information is equally credible!
Learn through Networking
Network! I have a reputation as a "go to" person among my friends. I was one of the first in my circle to home school, so I became the person who helped others find curriculum and do annual standardized testing. When I discovered food co-ops and bulk cooking techniques, I shared those resources with my friends. When a friend has a problem, my first impulse is to find a person or resource that will be useful to them. I gain tremendous pleasure from seeing people learning new things because I helped them with the information they needed. As I help my friends, I meet new friends and all of us teach each other. Teach a friend to bake and they may teach you about investing or woodworking or even potty training.
Learn by Doing
Do it! For topics like knitting, foreign language, or sports, this active learning method can and should be used. I believe I enjoy learning more than many people because I am not afraid to jump in and try things; in other words, I am not afraid to look like an idiot on the way to learning a new skill. I have knitted ugly hats, said embarrassing things in foreign languages, and baked horrible bread, but those experiences helped me become a proficient knitter and a better linguist (who still bakes horrible bread.) Obviously, this trial and error method will not be practical if you are studying nuclear weapons or contagious diseases.
Reading or networking without a formal classroom is still education. Formal classrooms, if they do not facilitate reading, networking, or practical application, may be an expensive waste. Start today by deciding on something you always wanted to learn, finding a pile of reading material, and seeking people who know what you want to know.
1. Sayers, Dorothy, "The Lost Tools of Learning," 1947 essay
2. Adler, Mortimer, How to Read a Book, 1940, chapter 20