I recently attended a NTUC appreciation dinner for mature workers. There, I met a pioneer generation crane operator who has worked at the Singapore Port for the last 50 years (and is still working there!). Although my working years are just a fraction of his, I’ve had the opportunity to work in many different careers that span very diverse industries.
Although I earned a Masters in Engineering at uni, the vast majority of the skills I use today are self-taught. Where did I learn these skills? At the “University of Google”.
Free Massive Open Online Courses
Whether you want to learn Python, WordPress, photography, public speaking, math, accounting, CAD, or Portuguese, you’ll probably find a MOOC (massive open online course) for it.
My favourite free MOOC portals are Coursera and NovoEd. I have also used Udacity, but they recently started charging a monthly subscription.
Both Coursera and NovoEd have a diverse course catalog, easy registration, and a very user-friendly interface. In addition to these portals, there are also tons of free classes offered directly from leading universities, such as Stanford, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford, and University of Melbourne.
For secondary school and poly students, I would highly recommend Khan Academy, which I used to use as a resource when I was teaching (in the States). I knew many students who used Khan Academy lessons to supplement their school’s education curriculum. Khan Academy even has a syllabus for homeschooling.
What Courses Have I Taken?
Personally, I’ve taken courses in nutrition, cryptology, economics, history, and a refresher course in multivariable calculus. Because these classes are online, you can “attend” class in your pajamas, go at your own pace, download the content, watch it on your mobile, and pause and rewind the lecturer (something I seriously wanted to do to my university professors).
In addition to the video lectures, most of these classes are interactive. You can post questions, answer other people’s questions, form study groups, and even attend virtual office hours. There are even classes that have Meetup groups.
Like a real class, there is usually homework, quizzes, and even final exams. Some classes are graded and others are pass/fail. You can also “audit” the class, and not actively participate in it.
Alternative Routes to Learning New Skills
With Singapore’s new ASPIRE Scheme, there are certainly many opportunities for one to acquire skills outside of the traditional route (via university), and become just as competent and proficient as a degree holder. However, there are certain professions in which credentials are essential. And online or other means of learning cannot be a direct substitute. These are professions like doctors, lawyers, counselors, professors, etc.
But if you’re not in one of these professions, gaining skills through online learning can be a huge money-saver. Right now, it’s not unusual to pay hundreds or even thousands for enrichment courses or seminars that teach just one topic.
With online classes, you can take classes purely for personal interest, rather than for career advancement. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like in specific career, you can “test drive” a class and see if you even like it.
The only major downside of MOOCs is that because these courses are free and readily available, the incentive, motivation, and commitment must come from within. And if you can’t seem to find the motivation for behaviour change, there are classes for that too! 🙂