There are many great, free sources of information available for the beginner beekeeper. This is a selection of videos, books and online courses which will provide you with the tools needed to begin beekeeping.
Although there are many great books for the beginning beekeeper a good start is Backyard Beekeeping by Dr. James E. Tew, Beekeeping Basics by Penn State and At the Hive Entrance by H. Storch.
A free online course from the University of California, "Honey Bees and Colony Strength Evaluation" is useful for all beekeepers from the beginner to the professional. The course consists of individual modules that provide background information on honey bees as well as clear, consistent recommendations for apiary inspection. The modular approach requires short blocks of time for each section and the viewer can proceed at their own pace viewing modules in any order they wish. Modules covering basic information may not be necessary for more experienced beekeepers or apiary inspectors. However, for those less familiar with the process, training modules can be re-visited as necessary. To take the course log in as a guest here.
Another good free online course presented by Ohio State University is Beekeeping and Honey Bee Biology. This course is based on Dr. Reed Johnson's for-credit OSU Beekeeping Course. The course consists of video lectures, handouts and readings presented on iTunes which is a free download. The course is extensive and consists of 138 segments covering every aspect of bees and beekeeping.
While it is possible to start beekeeping without any lessons it's suggested that you take a beekeeping course to learn the basics so that you are prepared for the challenges that will inevitably arise when tending to livestock. Once you have completed this the most important aspect of your learning experience will be to find a local beekeeper or beekeeping organization that will share their experiences with you. There are beekeeping organizations almost everywhere and something I have found is that beekeepers throughout the world are usually helpful and willing to share their love and knowledge of bees. Although I have never taken a beekeeping lesson I cannot consider myself self taught as I have had the luxury of good beekeeper friends who have allowed me to observe and answered my endless questions with commendable patience.
A wonderful aspect of beekeeping is that there is always something new to learn. For more information on bees and beekeeping go to the Beekeepers' Library.
"There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance."