“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

As if I didn’t already have enough stuff to do, I’ve been taking courses online through Coursera. Coursera offers “Massive Open Online Courses” or MOOCs  for short, from universities all around the world.

Currently I’m enrolled in a science fiction and fantasy literature course and a course on network analysis. I’m starting a course on reason and logic in arguments in November as well.

My current course load:

Science Fiction And Fantasy through the University of Michigan
Networks through the University of Pennsylvania
Think Again through Duke University

The literature course is just finishing up and so far, it’s been a great experience. The course requirements are pretty basic, read the text and write a short (250-320 word) essay on it. I probably spend 8 hours per week on the course, which sounds like a lot, but about 6 of those are spent reading the materials. I’d gotten interested in wanting to read more science fiction and fantasy so I’d probably be spending that reading anyway. There is about an hour of video lectures to watch, which I typically do while folding laundry or washing dishes. The last hour I spend on writing and editing my essay and peer reviewing my fellow classmates’ essays.

The Networks course just started and consists of a video series and complimentary quizzes. It’s probably taking 5-6 hours per week to watch the videos and then complete the quizzes, which you’re permitted to take twice.

Overall, I wouldn’t say that I’m getting a deep understanding of the content. You do miss a lot by not having course discussion (though there are forums for the courses, but I’m not using them) and from not getting feedback from the professors.

However, I don’t really see that as a downside. My goal for taking these courses was just to broaden my own knowledge base. The literature course mostly acts as a nagging reminder to make me read a series of books that were already on my to read list, with the added bonus of the lectures to provide a deeper understanding of context and theme. The networks course is giving me resources to use for my everyday work (social media consulting) and I’ve actually used some things I’ve learned already in a book I’m working on.

These courses provide what I think of as “dinner party” information. If the topic of science fiction literature came up at dinner party I was attending, I could contribute, intelligently, to the conversation. For me, that’s exactly what I was looking for from a free, online course.