My New Addiction

I’m addicted to Coursera. There, I’ve said it.

I signed up for my first Coursera course in August — Think Again: How to Reason and Argue, offered by Duke University, which is going for another 4 weeks. Then I saw Creativity and Innovation from Penn State and signed up (now in last 2 weeks). Next was Learning to Program from U of Toronto, which is the first Coursera course I’ve taken that has finished. The marks will be available tomorrow evening. And I thought, three is an okay schedule, after all I have my own work to do.

But then I became curious about Foundations of Virtual Instruction from UC Irvine, and Video Games and Learning from the University of Wisconsin — Madison. And I said to myself, ‘Okay, I can handle five. After all, they’re staggered and some will finish soon. And besides, they’re interesting.’

And then I thought ‘Neuroethics from the University of Pennsylvania looks interesting, and it’s not too long, let’s try that. But I’d better stop here, because six courses is getting to be a full courseload.’

But I didn’t.

Just today, I’ve signed up for Designing Cities, from the University of Pennsylvania, and Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society (starting in 1 week). Since the Programming course will be officially over by then, I’ll only have eight courses going simultaneously… until Nanotechnology: The Basics (Rice University, beginning November 4th) and Introduction to Astronomy (Duke University, December 2nd) start, bringing me to 10 (some of which should finish soon, fortunately).

But that’s not including the five I’ve already signed up for in January.

I’ve always been more scholastic than most of my friends, probably one of the few people who actually enjoyed school for the learning. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that the new wave of MOOCs (massive open online courses) have hooked me. Of course, the fact that they’re free puts less pressure on signing up. And all the ones I’ve taken so far are introductory level (i.e. university year 1-ish), which also makes things easier.

The lack of pressure for results is both a boon and a bane. It means I can gain the knowledge I’m interested in at no monetary cost to me, but it reduces the driving force for selection and, sometimes, work ethic. That is, the onus is on the individual to work at the level and standard they desire. However, to me, this means it’s all the more important that those providing the courses strive to maintain a high standard, or the courses will have little value (I feel the knowledge is always valuable, of course, but another important value is demonstrating that knowledge to the marketplace). At the moment, Coursera courses still give only a site certificate for complete, but there are signs that is or can change. In addition, I shudder to think about how I’ll respond when the MIT’s and Harvard’s full program MOOCs come online.

Insight and longevity


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