Thursday, February 27, 2014

Get Smart - Immerse Yourself in Online Courses

Little Girl ReadingThere's been a huge growth in online learning in the last few years, fuelled by faster broadband, better Web technology, and ease of publishing. If you want to brush up your skills in your area of expertise - or want to learn something new - take an online course or two. This is especially relevant and useful if you're a teacher, speaker, trainer, coach, consultant or some other form of educator. Enrol in online courses yourself as a student, and you'll see the standard expected of you when it comes to providing online education.

Coursera is the best-known provider.

There are many universities, colleges, and independent organisations offering online education. Probably the best known is Coursera.org, which offers online education in the form of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). When you enrol in a Coursera course, don't be surprised to be one of thousands doing the course at the same time. You can interact with other students through discussion forums, marking their assignments, and even meeting up in person at a local cafe.

The Coursera material is presented by experienced lecturers, often associated with well-known academic institutions. You'll get videos, written material, assignments and other resources during the course. The courses run over a number of weeks, and you'll be expected to do 3-5 hours of work each week.

A better starting point is Open2Study.

That last point - the time commitment - is the biggest drawback to Coursera, especially if you're doing the course to experience the process rather than necessarily learning the content. So if you're just getting started with online courses, I recommend you start with Open2Study, which is backed by leading Australian and New Zealand academic institutions.

Over the last couple of months, I experimented by taking three online courses:

I chose them with particular goals in mind:

  1. The first was Financial Literacy, which was pretty basic stuff about budgeting, handling a credit card, good and bad debt, etc. I knew the content would be easy for me, so I could focus on the process - in other words, how they delivered the course.
  2. The second was Big Data for Better Performance, which was about the new buzzword "big data". I knew some of the content would be familiar, but it's also such a new topic that I knew I would have to concentrate more on the material. So I did this one to test both the process and the content.
  3. Finally, I did Food, Nutrition & Your Health, a topic I didn't know well and genuinely wanted to know better. So this one was definitely more about the content.

You've got to try this yourself!

I could share with you the lessons I learned from this experience, but that wouldn't be very useful. I would much rather encourage you to do one of these courses yourself, so you can immerse yourself in the learning experience. If you're thinking about providing your own online courses, I think you'll be surprised at some of the things that are already available (free of charge, no less!). I'm sure you will also see some things that you will do better in your own courses. Either way, it's well worth the effort.

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