When looking for a simple answer about how to do something, look no further than free online tutorials. Maybe you're trying to assemble a piece of furniture, tie a tie, or figure out what a roux is (a flour and butter mixture used as a thickening agent in sauces). Your first impulse may be to reach out to friends and family as trusted sources of information, but what to do when they don't know? The wiseguy friend who sends you a link to lmgtfy.com aside, turning to online communities for answers can be the most efficient path to enlightenment. But which sites with free online tutorials are both useful and trustworthy? We found a few, as well as one you might want to skip over.
YouTube. More than just an endless stream of music videos and cats jumping into boxes, YouTube is an amazing source for how-to guides and free walk-through videos. Even niche requests often garner thousands of responses. For example, we queried "Mazda 3 brake pad change" and found nearly 7,500 videos, including high-definition guides that show exactly how to accomplish the task. How-to guides are created by professionals and amateurs alike; Ikea supports its own channel with assembly instructions for furniture, and aspiring musicians can find thousands of free lessons online.
About.com. About.com employs the services of nearly 1,000 freelance writers, or "guides," who ideally have several years of experience in their topic area. There are thousands of free online tutorials at this site, some with accompanying videos, created by the guides. The site launched in 1996, was owned by The New York Time's Company from 2005 until 2012 and then sold to InterActiveCorp. It's one of the most visited sites on the Internet and generally a good source for trustworthy information. One user, however, urges caution, noting that he often feels a misplaced sense of knowing confidence after reading a posting.
Udemy. Udemy.com hosts live classes and allows people to upload their own video, PowerPoint, and audio classes. Additional learning material in the form of PDFs or zip files is often included, as well. Although some classes have a fee attached (Udemy makes money by taking a cut of teachers' earnings), many how-to tutorials and introductory-level classes are free and serve as promotions for the teachers' more advanced classes or offline services, like photography or website building. Classes are available on everything from dog training to building iPhone apps, but because anyone can create a class the quality varies.
wikiHow. Created by the former owner of eHow, wikiHow is a source of free online tutorials for anything and everything. There are currently more than 150,000 how-to guides created and edited by users. Anyone can modify and reuse the material for non-commercial purposes. The "recent changes" section shows pages that have been amended and is closely monitored for misuse; for the most part, guides are kept up to date and accurate by an army of volunteers. Here, too, anyone can edit or create a page, and do so anonymously, so approach wikiHow tutorials with some skepticism. That's not to say there aren't highly useful, but it's always worthwhile to double check anything that seems a little off.
eHow. A how-to site filled with hundreds of thousands of guides sorted into seven categories, eHow is often referred to as a content mill because it pays contributors minimal compensation and focuses on creating as much revenue-generating content as quickly as possible. Some eHow guides may be useful, but more often are the butt of jokes. Forbes released a story after eHow's owner Demand Media went public in 2011 titled "Congratulations, Demand Media. You're Still Pretty Dumb." Entire blogs have been created to highlight the silliest eHow articles. This is one collection of free online tutorials better left unopened.
Most of these sites offer lots of information on a variety of subjects and are good free resources. Video walk-throughs and training on YouTube and About.com are especially helpful to users seeking guidance rather than just information. For very specific questions it may be best to turn to less generalized sources. Reddit plays host to plenty of unscrupulous and time-sucking content, but focused subreddits are treasure troves of practical and valuable information shared by well-meaning users. Another option is Quora, a popular question-and-answer site that's become known for its celebrity users. The question, "How did Ashton Kutcher prepare for his role as Steve Jobs in the new movie Jobs?" was answered by Kutcher.