It’s summer; your favorite TV shows won’t be airing for the next few months. What can you do to maintain the staring-at-a-screen stamina you’ve worked up over the last few months while watching House of Cards, Black-ish, The Good Wife, or Game of Thrones?
In the latter half of my 20s, I find myself for the first time in a situation where, if I wanted, I could go weeks or months without learning anything new. Add to that the unbearable heat of Kuwaiti summers, and you’ve landed yourself into an intellectual desert. While reading one-book-a-week helped me during my senior year of high school, this time there is a more exciting player in town: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
Nerdy as it may sound, MOOCs, much like TV, are a good form of escapism. Unlike TV, it’s active escapism, in which the audience is not passively consuming content. Depending on the course you choose, the material can even be beneficial for your career or help you to learn about an area that is of interest to you in a structured format. In fact, some workplaces even encourage their employees to enroll in MOOCs that are related to their core areas. This piece on Amnesty International’s Human Rights Education blog is a good example.
There is no shortage of MOOC platforms today. As a Coursera loyalist, I haven’t felt the need to experiment with other platforms, though I am sure they too have exhaustive course catalogs and are as user friendly.
In case you’re still not convinced here’s a list of the perks that online education provides:
1. Listening at your own pace (and instant replay)
For the professors that have a tendency of speaking too slowly, or too quickly, video recorded lessons are the perfect alternative. You don’t need to raise your hand and ask for clarification, or check with your neighbor. You can rewind and replay, or (my favorite) increase or decrease the play speed. For those who aren’t strong aural learners, they can even read from the transcript below the video.
2. No distractions or interruptions
Remember that one student who always asked long-winded (but ignorant) questions in an effort to impress the professor? Well, say goodbye to him or her. Of course, there may be plenty of distractions within your own home, such as your cat, partner, or smart phone. Of course, if you can convince your partner to make MOOCs a couple activity, then more power to you.
No University administration will dictate to you what time you have to be present in which room. As an online learner, you have true freedom to decide which days, at what time, or for how long you want each class to last. The freedom to set your own schedule is also a test of how motivated you truly are.
4. Quizzes are open-book and allow multiple attempts
Rote-learning a massive amount of facts, or craft crisp yet complex essays within a timed exam, is not a reflection of how success is measured in real-life. Open-book quizzes reflect the real world, which too is open-book since you can always access the Internet. Multiple attempts encourage you to review material that you haven’t mastered yet, and place more emphasis on the process of learning rather than the end result.
5. The best professors from the best institutions
While watching videos does not provide the same experience or perks of attending a prestigious institution in terms of networking, MOOCs increase the accessibility to, and the affordability, of quality education. A good example of is the Financial Markets course, taught by Nobel laureate Dr. Robert Shiller, a professor at Yale University.
6. Freedom to experiment
You do not have to major in a subject, or complete mandatory general educational requirements. You are free to explore history, science, language, psychology, or the creative arts. While I initially signed up on Coursera to increase my knowledge of business, I have ended up taking psychology and nutrition courses.
7. Certificates: a verifiable record of your accomplishment
Given the increasing frequency with which people change jobs, or even careers, having the additional certificate can be comforting, assuming it helps you land the next interview. However, beware of the slippery slope of external validation. While it is important to have certificates, online learning shouldn’t feel like a chore.
Specializations club 4-7 courses that focus on different aspects of a broader topic. Completing specialisations can signal interest and dedication, rather than an isolated course. In fact, as I write this I am on my way to completing two Wharton Specialisations: Business Foundations and Data Analytics. Both feature key material from its core MBA curriculum.
In my personal experience, I’ve found that online courses increase my professional exposure, provide a trusted source of in-depth information, as well as motivation and innovation. In that spirit I will be sharing the key lessons learned from MOOCs that I have taken. Stay tuned for some more MOOC musings on Psychology of Popularity, Exploring Your Microbiome, or Buddhism and Modern Psychology.