Winter Homework? Take an Online Class!

Winter has arrived!  What can you do with those long evenings?  Learn something new with distance learning!

‘Distance learning’ is the delivery of instruction through electronic means where the instructor and learner are geographically separate.  There are a wide variety of types of distance learning but this article will focus on some of the on-line educational resources available through Cornell University that you can access on your computer.  Some are scheduled classes and others are available whenever you have time.  Most are available to anyone in the Northeast.  Some are even free!

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Online classes can be taken right from your living room, or barn!

Here’s the geek speak up front – what software, hardware and plugins do you need to get started?  An email account is usually essential – you probably already have that.  Bandwidth – I’m already getting out of my depth – is how fast you can send and receive information – also indicated by connection speed.  If you have a dial up or satellight connection, online instruction isn’t impossible to access, but you will need patience and the audio and video may be spotty.  DSL and Cable Modems provide solid connections and allow for smooth use of all the aspects of the courses.

You might also need plugins like Adobe Acrobat Reader to be able to read pdf documents in your web browser and Flash Player to be able to watch videos.  Don’t worry.  Most distance learning programs will help you download these programs (for free!) if you don’t already have them.

There is a series of Beginning Farmer courses running from October to April each year with topics ranging from Guerilla Marketing or Financial Recordkeeping to the newest information on growing veggies or berries.  They run about 6 weeks each, cost $175  and mix real-time on-line webinar meetings with on-your-own–time readings and activities.  The annual calendar of courses is available.  Where else can you have direct access to experienced growers and Cornell Cooperative Extension Educators and ask them all the questions you want?

The Cornell Horticulture Department offers on-line courses with a hands-on component.  Two that might be of interest, are Organic Gardening and Plant Propagation.  For each course there are on-line discussions and even virtual field trips!

Now you can even get pesticide credits for on-line courses!  The Pesticide Management Education Program (or PMEP) has a series of on-line pest management courses that fulfill the requirements for Department of Environmental Conservation pesticide license recertification credits, both in core credits and in category courses.  Topics include Safety Precautions with Pesticides, Personal Protection, Sweet Corn IPM, and Scouting Basics.  Each module has a pre-test followed by text, photos, and other educational materials.  Once you have studied the information, and spent at least an hour on the materials, you successfully complete a post test and are issued a certificate.  Most courses cost $25.  There are already 17 modules with new courses being added.

Do you have forest lands on your farm?  The Department of Natural Resources supports ForestConnect – an internet seminar series with free monthly broadcasts on the web at.  They even, kindly, include a trouble-shooting page on their website to reduce connection frustration. You can learn about maple syrup production or silvopasturing, the practice of mixing cows and trees! There are archived presentations on those and many more topics.  And new live webinars (web seminars!) are listed as they are scheduled so you can actively participate in the discussion by emailing questions!

So how about some leadership information?   There are free archived webinars on communication strategies through eCornell.  (Warning:  When you sign up you might get some eCornell emails.) eCornell also has courses on Human Resources Management, Financial Management and Marketing that lead to certificates in these areas.  And if you’d like to earn degree credit but can’t get to campus, the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions provides a wide range of courses in summer and winter sessions. How about Popular Culture in the United States, 1950 to the Present to liven up those winter nights!

Avatar of Elizabeth Lamb

Elizabeth Lamb

Elizabeth Lamb is a Senior Extension Associate with the NYS Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. For more information, contact Elizabeth Lamb at 607 254-8800 or

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