Teach Me On a Sunday: A foray into the world of the MOOC

I spoke earlier in the week about the capacity for the internet to make positive change in my post about crowdfunding the Nebia shower. Today I wanted to share my experience around free online education, something that I am wholeheartedly on board with! I am a University graduate (University of Leeds class of 2008!) and am fully aware of all the benefits, as well as the disadvantages that come along with that. Whilst I don’t regret my time at University one bit, it isn’t for everyone and particularly as fees become more and more expensive we have to acknowledge that there are alternatives!

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are courses  for which anyone can sign up and learn a new skill for free. They are open to all, no matter what level your prior knowledge of the subject. Most are also self-paced, meaning precious demands on your time don’t have to be put aside. You can spend all day looking after children, then move through the modules when you’ve put them to bed. If you’re a night- shift worker you can pore over the syllabus as you’re eating breakfast at 4pm. If, like me, you work all day then instead of flopping in front of the TV watching oh-so-bad-they’re-good reality shows you could spend your evenings productively learning a something new. I should take this opportunity to point out that the company I work for does an amazing job of providing training for personal development, but as this wasn’t directly related to my job role I thought I’d just do it as a bit of extra-curricular activity (I know, what a nerd 😉 ).

At the end of June, I signed up through EdX.org for the Creative Problem Solving and Decision Making course run by professors at TU Delft. As a language graduate, analysis of raw data is not my area of expertise (though I can give you a line by line breakdown of the intertextuality of Dante’s Divine Comedy if you like!). I relish a challenge, though, and the syllabus really caught my eye. I’ve done all sorts of psychometric tests to establish my working strengths and weaknesses over the past few years and time and time again the results have pointed towards a strong tendency for “big picture thinking”. I like to collate information, organise it into sensible order with appropriate context and see how the pieces slot together. It turns out that this is one of the main aims when performing any sort of problem analysis.

The course structure consisted of five modules, each with an introductory video, a few practice questions and then the homework of applying to techniques to a case study. I chose to apply mine to a specific work case study, as even though it didn’t appear that the course was relevant to my job role initially it quickly became apparent that you could use these models to tackle almost any dilemma. Because I was working with work-specific data, I didn’t upload my homework onto the online forum as others did, but I read through a few pages worth of discussion and it seems that many found it useful to chew over problems with others, as you would in a physical classroom I suppose!

I think I underestimated the course slightly, particularly in how technical it was going to be. The professors recommend you read the accompanying book in addition to the videos, though admit it isn’t necessary. I didn’t have the book, and I passed the course, but I feel that if you wanted a really thorough understanding of the techniques it would certainly help. It may well be something I return to as I begin to put this method of modelling problems into use!

I chose to register for the verified certificate, after completing the first module and deciding that I was likely to carry on. On registering I realised that it isn’t for one course, but lasts a year, so I may well look into other courses in a few months (we are coming up to the busiest season of the year in work now, so another course may well be a New Year’s project!).

I think it’s really cool to learn something completely new (and am painfully aware that that acknowledgement makes me, without question, very uncool) and I really think we should start spreading the word about resources which are out there for anyone and everyone to take advantage of.

Have you ever completed a MOOC? What was your experience with it? I’d love to hear from you!

Little Welsh

P.s. The title of the post is a polite nod to the one woman show Tell Me on a Sunday. There’s no deep meaning behind it, I just liked the way it sounded. Plus, if you ask me, there is no better way to round off a busy, productive week than curled up in bed with a cup of tea listening to musical soundtracks.

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