There is probably no other American as revered as Benjamin Franklin. This inventor, scientist, statesmen and founding father of our country still influences modern life every time we vote, flick on a light or visit a library. What’s more amazing is that Ben Franklin was almost entirely self taught.

Although he received some formal schooling, from the age of ten on up, Franklin’s accomplishments were almost entirely as a result of his own desire to learn. And this was in a day and age when books were rare and expensive, and knowledge a rare and valuable commodity.

As we move further into the 21st century, the idea of self-education is going to continue to broaden and expand, making the life-long learner the most valuable person in the workplace, not the person with the fancy (and outdated) degree. That’s not to say that formal education is going to go away. There will always be a need for excellent universities and inspiring teachers. But the person who takes it upon himself to learn and explore topics—to broaden their own horizons—will always enjoy an edge, whether it be in business or as a citizen.

And what an amazing time to desire self-education! Never before has so much knowledge been so readily available. What would Ben have thought of GoogleWikipedia or TED Talks? It’s said that the sum of all human knowledge—everything we know about everything—is doubling every 18 months. New discoveries in science, technology and astronomy are happening almost every minute of every day. The most remarkable thing is that these discoveries are almost instantaneously available to anyone with an Internet connection.

Even more amazing are all of the systems, tools and resources that are popping up everywhere that offers people the chance to learn about any topic they desire. Want to learn how to design a web page? There are lots of free resources to learn HTML and CSS coding online. Struggling with math, science or physics? The Khan Academy offers anyone the change to learn or (re-learn) anything from basic addition to advanced Calculus through a library of over 3,400 video based lessons, again for free.

Beyond cost lies the fact that so many people learn differently. Some are auditory learners, others visual. One student might thrive in a classroom where the teacher simply talks while another slowly slips further and further behind. With all of these new interactive learning systems comes the potential of true differentiated learning. Now more than ever, anyone can learn anything in a style that is tailored to their specific learning style. This means that the person who struggled in school–the person with ADHD, or Autism or simply anyone who hated sitting in a classroom all day when they wanted to be exploring the real world outside—anyone now has access to the knowledge they want or need.

And what’s most amazing is that no one really knows where this will lead us. It has only been within the last one hundred and fifty years that any type of education, even rudimentary learning, was available to anyone but the most privileged. Now, a villager in Africa can take classes at MITStanford or Princeton. What types of new discoveries are going to be made? And more importantly what kinds of people will we see taking up the challenge to better themselves and the rest of the human race through education.

One thing is for certain, never again will lack of education be an excuse for anyone on Planet Earth to learn what they need to learn to survive, learn a trade or get ahead in life. Right this second, there lies at your fingertips the entire Library of Congress, the writings of every great thinker and the combined knowledge of 2,000 years of civilization. All that’s required is a thirst to learn and a burning question that needs to be answered.

The top image is from Pedro Szekeley (cc).