virtual work

Learning Online – Education Goes Global

September 18, 2014

I have never taken an online course that mattered other than traffic school for speeding tickets.  I was a fan of the genre having watched the difference online learning made for my son, who was bored into inattention in a classroom environment.  At midnight, after playing two to four hours of something on a Playstation he was ready to rock that online class I made him take during the summer before his freshman year.  Get ahead before you get behind was my motto.  He did well in that class and subsequent online learning experiences.  (Never mind that it took an exhaustive amount of time and money every time he needed the school to transfer the credit to another school, which ironically had to be done in person.)

Online learning is all the rage in the startup community here in Prague.  This is a city flowing with a thirst for knowledge, not just Pivo.   I’ve picked up tips on favorite “free-learning” sites while networking at events at Wayra– an incubator in the center of Prague.  I’ve learned about sites from the digital drifters that pass through Prague on their global journey.

It was while writing at Locus (one of my favorite co-working spaces) that a friend said she had just finished her last quiz on Coursera.  She was taking an economics course – her passion and hobby.  Lightbulb!  I’ve got free time for the first time in my life, I could do something like that.  Five seconds in to the Coursera site I found this:

Networked Life   

Networked Life will explore recent scientific efforts to explain social, economic and technological structures — and the way these structures interact — on many different scales, from the behavior of individuals or small groups to that of complex networks such as the Internet and the global economy.

The instructor assures us The course was offered for the first time two years ago, and for the most part it seems students are able to help each other sort through difficulties or misunderstandings.”

Aha! Learning is less paternalistic in the online environment.  The redefined teaching experience forces lecturers to leverage and delegate.  They employ the highly effective strategy of mastery to reach of the masses of online learners.  Those students for whom it clicks instantly share their understanding with the group and they feel validated, we get the CliffNotes version of the subject, and we all master the topic.  (For the colonized and oppressed of the world for home Mastery has ugly connotations let’s refer to it as Shared Learning).

Online courses are encouraged, and hopefully inspired, to continuously innovate.  This course is no exception; something new and exciting was going to happen.

As an added bonus for this third offering of Networked Life, Lili and I will be designing some participatory online experiments on solving challenging problems and puzzles, using the types of networks we will be studying during the course. These experiments will be entirely voluntary and separate from the course requirements, but we hope many of you will participate in this scientific endeavor, and discuss it in the forums.

Collage Dave Eggers The CircleThis is straight out of Dave Eggers brilliant novel The Circle.  It would seem damn near unpatriotic not to participate, the guy is teaching you for free.  You ignore the voice in the back of your head that says “isn’t this kinda like the Facebook thing.”  But this is with my consent.  The same kind of consent I give when I can’t remember a password and just give in, sign in with Facebook, and check all the boxes that pop up next about knowing the location of my pets, my car keys and my bank accounts.

I’m excited about learning what makes masses of people behave like sheep and make things go viral; with equal parts laughter and panic.  For me, someone who is turned on by science, I am excited when I read the guy is going to talk about algorithms, and his teaching assistant Lili, a PhD student, somehow sounds hot.  Like the kind that sleep with the professor in the indie film even though they are already getting good grades.  After all, I’m the one online- they’re on an Ivy League campus where those kinds of things probably still happen.

Wish me luck.  Like I said, I haven’t taken a quiz since online traffic school.

Here are some other great online learning resources  – Originally created as an educational platform for creatives. However, now they offer plenty of “easy to digest” live workshops for entrepreneurs and small businesses. – Learning about the latest trends in marketing and business.

For more see LifeHacker for 50 of the Best online learning sites or U.S. News and World Reports U.S. News and World Report.

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