Websites That Make You Smarter

Useful knowledge, served up with 21st century style

Young Girl Wearing Tie Types on Laptop
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Forget formal schooling for 30 minutes. Here are outstanding examples of how a simple half-hour of web reading can increase your ability to understand and influence the world around you.

Want to get smarter at understanding taxes or the economy? Want to better understand your own risk fears or why your teenager is so defiant? Want to improve your leadership ability at the office? Here are some free websites that are guaranteed to improve your brainpower.

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RSA Animate: Hand-Illustrated Presentations

RSA Animate: Hand-Illustrated Videos
RSA Animate. Photo:
What We Like
  • Videos and podcasts.

  • Unique videos keep your attention.

  • Some videos are available as downloads.

What We Don't Like
  • Updates infrequently.

  • Can't sort by popularity.

  • Most video downloads don't work.

  • Website is confusing to use.

People who love also love RSA Animate. The RSA is a non-profit society that seeks to innovate solutions to modern social problems: hunger, social care, crime, political oppression, the environment, education, social justice.

The RSA delivers many of their thought-provoking messages (often from TED speakers) through the novel means of hand-drawn illustrations. The RSA Drive animation is one of our favorites, along with dozens of other thought-provoking videos.

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What We Like
  • Wealth of content for anyone.

  • Useful navigation categories.

  • Free daily email newsletter.

What We Don't Like
  • Lots of ads. (named for "incorporation") is an intelligent and inspirational resource for the business world.

Focused on modern theories of business growth and organizational development, has a deep library of modern blogging and thought-leader insights.

How great leaders inspire others, how to create a customer-centered work culture, how to avoid the pitfalls of starting your own company, why top performers fail in the modern business world: the insights and advice at are modern and profound.

If you are a manager, team leader, executive, or hopeful business owner, you must visit this site.


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Discover Magazine

Discover Magazine
Discover Magazine. Discover Magazine
What We Like
  • Interesting articles.

  • Makes science fun to learn.

  • Category-specific RSS feeds.

  • Various ways to consume the info.

  • Free email newsletter.

What We Don't Like
  • Can't easily find popular topics or articles.

  • Several website advertisements.

If anyone can make science sexy, it is Discover Magazine. Somewhat like Scientific American, Discover seeks to bring science to the world.

Discover is special, however, because it focuses on making science clear *and* motivating. Why did homo sapiens survive while other species died out? How do you dismantle a nuclear warhead? Why is autism on the rise? Discover is not a non-profit company, but its product definitely makes its customers smarter.

This site is highly recommended to all thinking people. p.s. Discover Magazine is not the same organization as the Discovery Channel Company.

Visit Discover Magazine

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Brain Pickings

Tick or cross concept, Senior man with opened head, a small man holding right and wrong sign, standing in the opened head
alashi / Getty Images
What We Like
  • Several subjects to browse through.

  • No ads.

  • Simple website design.

  • Two recurring newsletter options.

What We Don't Like
  • Hard to find what to read.

Brain Pickings is a discovery engine for 'interestingness and curiosity quenchers'. is a treasure chest of anthropology, technology, art, history, psychology, politics, and more. The blog itself may seem a bit high-brow when you first visit but definitely browse for a good 10 minutes.

Pay particular note to the 'Beatles photographs', 'NASA and Moby' and 'Freud Myth' blog entries.

Visit Brain Pickings

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What We Like
  • Videos and articles.

  • Huge variety of content.

  • Sign up for an email newsletter.

  • Fun quizzes.

  • Random content button.

What We Don't Like
  • Distracting in-video and website ads.

Inquisitive minds absolutely love! This site is a division of the Discovery Channel Company, and the high-quality production shows in every video here.

See how tornadoes work, how diesel engines run, how boxers do mitt practice, how sharks attack, how serial killers get caught.

Imagine Khan Academy, but with a massive budget. This is outstanding video learning for the whole family.

Visit HowStuffWorks

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Julie Freeman at TED talks
Juliana Rotich/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0
What We Like
  • Tons of videos.

  • Variety of topics.

  • Unique sorting options.

  • Completely free.

  • Closed captions.

What We Don't Like
  • Includes advertising.

'Technology, Entertainment, Design' was the original acronym meaning for TED. But over the years, this remarkable website has grown to cover nearly every contemporary topic about humanity: racism, education, economic prosperity, business and management theory, capitalism vs. communism, modern technology, modern tech culture, the origins of the universe.

If you consider yourself a thinking person who wants to learn a little more about the world you live in, you absolutely must visit

Visit TED: Inspirational Ideas Worth Spreading

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What We Like
  • Free courses for all ages.

  • In-depth, progressive videos.

  • Mobile apps for adults and children.

  • Closed captions option.

  • No user account required.

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't include a full curriculum.

  • Donation-based, so it's not guaranteed to stay around.

As a philanthropic non-profit group, the Khan Academy seeks to provide a world-class education to the world for free.

The knowledge here is intended for every kind of person: teacher, student, parent, employed professional, trades worker... the learning videos are very valuable to anyone seeking to learn.

Most any scholastic topic is available at Khan or is in the process of being made available. You can even volunteer to help translate or dub the videos into other languages.

Khan Academy is another example of why the Internet is so valuable as a democratic form of free publishing.


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Project Gutenburg

Project Gutenberg logo
Dianakc/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
What We Like
  • Thousands of free books.

  • No registration required.

  • View the top 100 books.

  • Download or read online.

  • Shows no ads.

What We Don't Like
  • Unattractive website design.

  • Hard to navigate the website.

  • Relies on donations to operate fully.

It started in 1971 when Michael Hart digitized the US Declaration of Independence for free sharing. His team then set a goal to make the 10,000 most-consulted books freely available to the world.

Until optical character recognition came about in the late 80's, Michael's volunteer team entered all these books in by hand. Now: over 50,000 free books are available at Project Gutenberg's website.

Most of these books are classics (no licensing issues), and are some splendid reads: Bram Stoker's Dracula, the complete works of Shakespeare, Sir Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Melville's Moby Dick, Hugo's Les Miserables, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and John Carter series, the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe.

If you have a tablet or e-reader, you MUST visit Project Gutenberg and download some of these classic books!

Visit Project Gutenburg

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Merriam Webster/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
What We Like
  • Learn a new word every day.

  • Dictionary and thesaurus.

  • Quizzes to test your vocabulary.

  • Minimal advertising.

What We Don't Like
  • Over 250,000 words are available only for paying members.

Merriam-Webster is far more than an online dictionary and thesaurus. is also an English-Spanish translator, a medical jargon quick reference, an encyclopedia, a digital mentor in improving your vocabulary, a coach in using modern jargon and slang, and a trend analyzer of how people are speaking English in the modern world.

Plus: there are some really engaging word games and curiosity quizzes for a daily injection of brain stimuli. Definitely: this site is much more than a simple dictionary.

Visit Merriam-Webster

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BBC Science: Human Body and Mind

BBC Science
BBC Science
What We Like
  • Sticks to a few similar topics.

  • Fun to browse through.

  • Quick summaries before every article.

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't update with new content.

  • Large banner ads.

  • Can't filter or sort the content.

The British Broadcasting Corporation has always had a reputation for credibility and objectivity.

With a presentation that is somewhat less flashy than American-based science sites, the BBC Science site delivers very motivating and highly engaging articles on nature, the hard sciences, and the human body and mind.

How do you cope with stress? Can we have electricity without wires? What will the Kepler space telescope find? How does your mind process morality? How musical are you?

Visit BBC Science: Human Body and Mind

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