This is a “show your work” post about sharing some of my thinking around my own career development. You can read Part 1 here.
Last year, I wrote about my strategy of taking online courses in the summer (click here for a refresher). As I’m well into my semester, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned as I’ve refined my process. I think it’s amazing that we live in an age where we have access to the best professors at leading universities FOR FREE.
This Summer’s Courses:
- Online Games: Literature, New Media & Narrative (Vanderbuilt University)
- Social and Economic Networks: Models and Analysis (Stanford University)
- Networks Illustrated: Principles Without Calculus (Princeton University)
- A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment (Indian School of Business)
1) Choose your platform wisely: I love the coursera app.
Last year, I took a few classes on the MIT Open Courseware platform, but I found it bulky and annoying. It took me twice as long to complete the courses because it was such a pain. I’ve been using the Coursera App obsessively ever since and I love it for several reasons.
- It has an easy to use design, especially on mobile devices. User experience is key for me, especially if I’m going to be frequently accessing the app. I found the app to be intuitive and well designed, and it’s made it painless to access and interact with content. It’s super easy to add, delete and change courses too.
- You can download videos and course materials for offline viewing. This has been my favorite feature! As I wrote in my last post, I like to maximize my enjoyment of summer weather, and this app makes it easy to consume course materials on the go, meaning I can catch a lecture while I’m out and about – preferably on a nice patio or by the seine. Alternatively, you can power through a bunch of lessons on long airplane rides, making your travel time productive and interesting. Especially if you fly in one of United’s old, horrible airplanes that have no televisions oroutlets. (Seriously United?? Not even an outlet?!)
2) Build it into your weekly schedule
One of my favorite quotes comes from Tim Ferris’ Four Hour Workweek. He says: A lack of time is a lack of priorities. Here’s what I believe: continuous learning is essential for professional development. So it’s a priority for me. I make time for it in a way that makes sense to me and I’m realistic about what I can and can’t accomplish.
I purposefully schedule my courses in the summer because I make a conscious effort to scale back other responsibilities. I would totally fail at completing them if I tried to do it in the winter, which is one of my busiest times. I set aside time each week to sit and study some of the material. The day of the week might change depending on my schedule, but I always make sure I include the time.
Find the cycle that works for you: is it 20 minutes a day? An hour a week? Make it work for you. Self-paced learning means there are no excuses to making it fit with your schedule. Commuting time, waiting in line, coffee breaks, workouts, while cooking – there’s always an opportunity to listen to one of the lectures if you know where to look
Pro tip: Depending on the complexity of the material, I can increase the speed of the videos to 1.5 or 2x the normal speed without losing comprehension. If it’s really technical stuff, then I won’t multitask and will listen to it at normal speed. Experiment and see what works!
3) Be realistic about what you can do
I’ve learned that consistency is far more effective than quantity as a metric of achievement. When I first started, not only did I completely underestimate the time it would take to complete the materials, but I set up crazy expectations about how much time I was going to devote to this every day.
I have since learned that it’s better to set the expectation of constant forward momentum. I don’t force myself to adhere to the course schedule, because I’m auditing the courses, I don’t feel the pressure to stick to their timelines, and focus on completing the course in a way that makes sense to me. There’s no harm in starting with one course if that’s all you have time for.
I’ve managed to take more courses without getting overwhelmed by just making sure that I did something consistently. Even if all I could do one week was listen to 30 minutes or 10 minutes – who cares! It’s better than zero, right?
4) Figure out how to capture the information
Last year, I took a bunch of notes in my moleskin as I was going through the courses, but I didn’t plan out how I was going to use the information. This year, I think I’m going to type up my notes, and create a filing system for them online (Evernote or simplenote are great for this.) I’ll be sharing some of my outlines as well, so be sure to subscribe to my newsletter if you’re interested in getting those!
5) Always Include A Wildcard
Most of the courses I take are centered around the digital space, big data or strategy. However, I always make sure I include one totally random course. You never know what will inspire you. Incorporating different schools of thoughts and unrelated subject matters will only enrich your knowledge base. This year, I’m taking A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment because I think the premise is super interesting. Other wildcard courses on my To-Be-Learned include:
- The Psychology of Popularity (University of North Carolina)
- Superhero Entertainments (National University of Singapore)
- Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences (Rutgers, State University of New Jersey).
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