Leaving your career in search of something new inevitably leads to a path to try and hoard as much “knowledge” as possible. Having been out of school for the last five years, I’ve realized I actually missed learning! So lately, I’ve been on a mission: to learn as many new things as possible. In trying to find out what I enjoy, I try to look for opportunities to learn new skills, knowledge and in general read A LOT!
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
― Dr. Seuss
Learning new things is critical in today’s world, we’re trending towards this knowledge economy, which will challenge the way you think, and force you to adapt. One way to adapt is to learn new skills. Learning, however, needs to be differentiated from gathering information, which is very easy today. There’s your best friend Google, and even Wikipedia, Reddit, Twitter and Instagram among others. So it’s easy if say I want to know what is the movie about Mcdonald’s called? (Answer: The Founder). But what will take learning, to understand the circumstances that needed to align to make McDonalds such a successful business today. Information overload can be distracting.
Sure, reading books, newspaper articles, magazines, and even blog posts are great ways to learn about new topics or different perspectives on the same topic, however, sometimes it is good to get more structure around what you are learning. It enhances the chance that what you learn will actually stick with you!
For the last couple of months, I’ve been looking for reputable, free resources, rather than get stuck in a rabbit hole of endless Wikipedia pages (which is really easy!).
Enter: MOOCs! MOOCs aka Massive Open Online Courses are courses offered to a large audience, typically free of charge. Here is a brief history of MOOCs from McGill if you’re interested in how it all started.
They’re basically a way through which universities to offer free courses to a large audience. Because these are offered online, you can take them at your own time. When they were first offered, they were completely free. So far, in my search, I’ve found that many of the courses are free to learn, but if you’re looking for a certification, you will have to pay for it.
Why take MOOCs?
Learn something new
There are a variety of courses you can take as a MOOC: technical courses, like data analytics or coding, or more abstract courses like Introduction to Philosophy, or even courses around improving your soft skills such as communication, or learning how to learn! This is a great way to learn something, where you’re doing it for fun, self-improvement
Structured, disciplined learning
The best way to stay motivated to learn something often is to add some structure around it. From the MOOCs I’ve seen, they all have a course outline or syllabus. Structured learning is a great way to learn, because someone has taken the time to construct the course and it’s content and make it applicable to the users. It forces you to stay disciplined and commit to going through the modules on time.
Free / Inexpensive Knowledge
Many MOOCs are free to take, which means you can get the knowledge for free. A lot of courses also have free discussion groups, and peer reviewed assignments or quizzes. So it is very easy to get the most out of the course. If you do need certification, there is a fee in most platforms, but it is cheaper than going Princeton to take a course in Blockchain and Cryptocurrency!
Start when you want, stop when you want
Many MOOCs have online start and end dates for assignments and discussion groups, however, it is often up to how when you commit the time to do it. You can even reset deadlines, or just stop taking the course if it is not offering what you thought it would!
These MOOCs are offered through universities or other recognized institutions around the world. It’s comforting in today’s world of fake news to have access to reputable knowledge. Often while watching YouTube videos, I feel like I have to be on edge and evaluate the worth of the information being provided. MOOCs the taught by professors, who have earned their credentials in the field of the coursework and are backed by accredited institutions, so you can put your mind at ease, and just learn!
Create your own path
The best part about taking these MOOCs is that you can develop your own series of courses that help you accomplish your goals. For example, if you want to learn more about project management, you can learn about the basics of project management, as well as tangential skills, such as effective communication. Many of the courses also offer various skill levels, beginner for introductory courses, and advanced courses for those you want to move past the 101 base. I love the idea of this type of learning, because when I was in university, I was forced to take a specific set of courses to complete a degree.
One of the best part about MOOCs is flexibility. You don’t have to leave your house, you can complete modules, when you wake up at 6am or before you go to bed! The MOOC community is worldwide, which means that there is no set time as to when you have to be present to learn, you can approach learning however it suits you – cram it all in a weekend or tackle a few hours each day!
Where can I take these?
There are lots of platforms and aggregators that provide links to online courses from lots of universities all over the world!
How do I know if it’s worth my time?
Whenever there are a lot of choices, it’s easy to get stuck in decision paralysis. The same way you spend more time looking for something to watch on Netflix, than watching it, it’s easy to get stuck in this endless loop of looking at online courses that look interesting, but then not actually complete any courses!
Class Central offers a list of top 50 classes, based on feedback. The great thing about it, is that it is updated often!
Tips to make this worth your time
- Focus on one course at a time
I made the mistake of enrolling in too many online courses at the same time. I got overly excited when I discovered this new way of learning! However, it is best to focus on one course at a time, so you don’t feel overwhelmed and completely abandon the idea.
- Set your goals: Be clear on what you want to achieve.
If you’re like me, and want to learn for the sake of learning, enrol in any course that looks interesting to you. If you don’t enjoy it, you can always withdraw. However, if you are looking to improve your skills in a particular area, your motivation may be different. Is it important for you to get recognition for the course? If so, do you want to pay for the certification? And will it actually recognized in your field? If not, maybe MOOCs will not be the way for you!
- Evaluate the course
You can find the course outline or syllabus and evaluate if the material presented looks interesting to you. Would you want to listen to the presenters of the course? Or will it be a chore to complete the course. One advice I’ve seen is to “audit’ the course by looking at a couple of videos; if you’re engaged then keep going, if not, maybe there’s another course that’s better suited for you!
- Does it teach you the way you like to learn?
Maybe you prefer videos over readings, or quizzes over assignments. Each MOOC is structured a little differently, just like there are different structures for university courses. If you have a preference in how the course should be presented, then make sure the course you select has those elements.
- Take notes
The best way for me to learn is by writing things down, and going over it. If I take notes, I’m typically being more active in my learning. That way, I can always refer back to my notes, and it makes me feel like there is a tangible takeaway from the course!
- Stick with it: Stay motivated
Make time for the courses, write it down in your planner, or schedule it in your calendar, so you don’t forget about this course you’re taking. After all, you’re doing it for yourself, so you need to invest the time in it yourself!
Start taking some MOOCs! I’ve started to take some MOOCs and will be posting about my experience and learnings. If you don’t want to take the full MOOC, hopefully my abridged version of the MOOC will help you learn, or maybe even inspire you to take another one!
“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest” – Benjamin Franklin
MOOCs that I’ve taken or intend to take:
- Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential offered by McMaster University via Coursera.org
- Creativity, Innovation, and Change offered by The Pennsylvania State University via Coursera.org
- Game Theory offered by Stanford University via Coursera.org