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Open learning: my edX experience

Toronto University CertificateSome months ago, I wrote a post about a variety of free learning opportunities which were available on the net. I talked about sites where we can find courses imparted by leading universities or business schools.

I decided that I couldn’t write about this subject if I didn’t know in-depth. That is the reason why I decided to register for an edX course. In this entry, I will explain my experience.

The election

At the beginning of October I dived into the web to find an attracting course. Since my career is related to Finance, I was looking for a course in that area; you know…accounting, cash management and that type of stuff. However, I didn’t find any. Having this problem of availability, I chose the one I saw was something to do with business management.  I joined “behavioral economics in action”, a training in the area of choice architecture and decision making process.

The course

The program, which was offered by the University of Toronto, started on October 14th and had a length of six weeks. Each week was divided in sections and each section in units. The units could take the form of lecture videos (main teaching tool), texts (supporting documents) or practice quizzes (for testing the topic comprehension).

The length of the videos was appropriate (between 5 and 15 minutes) and they were based on the traditional teaching system; that is: a teacher explaining the topic.  Although I didn’t always agree, I found the explanations interesting and sometimes funny. The transcript of the videos was available, which helped to check some concepts I didn’t understand, or to take notes and make summaries.

There was something relevant regarding the progress of the course: the sections of each week were only available from the beginning of that week. For example, at the beginning of week 2, only the sections of week 1 and week 2 were available, but not the ones of the remaining weeks. For me this was good, because I organized my time to the sections of each week.

The examination

Here is where I have my main doubts. The examination was composed by two short exams (each represented the 20% of the final grade), a self assessed reflection (20%) and the design of a short project (40%) assessed by other students taking part in the course.

While the exams were ok, I don’t see the sense of self assessing. On the other hand, although there were some instructions to assess others’ projects, I noticed that mine was rated very kindly. I understand that it is difficult to find a system to evaluate all students’ works (more than 200, in this case), but maybe the process somehow should be improved.

 After finishing all the tests and passing them (minimum score of 60%), a certificate like the one attached to this post was sent.

Conclusions

This first experience was positive. I selected a course about a subject I didn’t know that existed, which I found more than interesting. The length of the course and the lectures were correct. I missed a better way to clearly fix the main concepts. However, there were many supporting texts to help and to deepen.

It is something that I would recommend. But, please, take into account that like all the teaching systems this has its limits. On the other hand, there are other attracting places which also offer good courses, such as Coursera.

Towards the virtual office: stop accumulating physic documents

documentsIt is known by everybody that Finance and Administration departments in a company are the ones which accumulate more papers and documents. It is already a classic image the one of an office full of shelves loaded with thousands of files, which in many cases are only able to handle and understand by the employee who works in that place. Imagine what happens when that person is fired, or resigns or simply moves to another post.

I definitely believe that we are in a New Era, in which our office could be anywhere and the information and documents should be available as well. So it is about high time that we move forward.

Firstly, I see it clear that a real change of habits must be performed. This change must be started by the managers but it has to be followed by all the members of the team. Which new habits are required?

  • Stop storing physic documents: we have to scan those documents we want to save and throw away the original, with the only exception of official documents (i.e. tax returns, stamped contracts…). We should encourage our documents providers that they only send them in digital format.
  • Have a clear organization system: since the beginning we have to decide how the documents are organized so that not only us but other members in the team can find them easily. Using standard rules, as suggested by Lean methodology, can be extremely helpful.

Secondly, we have to develop a work environment which enables and develops the change:

  • Test and change, if necessary, the workflow. When you do this, you may discover that some documents which always ended on your desk could be elsewhere. By implementing clear and new procedures everybody is responsible for his documents.
  • Use new tools: in most cases scanners are required. In some others it could be advisable to purchase a program to manage the documents. But be careful, my personal experience is that those programs can be very expensive. Calculate the return before making that investment.

In conclusion, we should leave the papers behind. Now there are no excuses to continue accumulating papers. I have decided to do so and in the medium term I expect to reduce dramatically the amount of papers on my desk.

Open learning: free education

open-eduI have to recognize that I love to learn and to study new subjects, or just update my knowledge on my professional skills. I am, therefore, interested on the way we follow to gain those skills. When graduate degree is achieved, we tend to complete a postgraduate program such as a specific master or a MBA. They normally are expensive, and we consider them as a future investment.

After some years working, we consider that it is time to recycle ourselves. The main option is an executive education program which allows us to combine both work and study. But those courses are also expensive, and we normally don’t make a positive decision unless the Company we work for pays it or part of it.

When we finish this studying process (I have just described mine), we focus on short courses about subjects we use every day at work.  It is as if there weren’t other tracks to improve and learn.

But, fortunately, nowadays there are many free options. I knew about some, but after digging a bit I have discovered that there is a wide variety of open learning options.

The IE Business School, where I attended an executive education program last year, has open multimedia resources available for anyone. It is a simple way to practice on a certain topic. Other two powerful sites, which are somehow related, are the Open Course Ware of the MIT and the Edx place. Both websites allow the access to high quality courses from leading universities. Not only that, in Edx you are able to take an examination, and you can get a certificate.

Other free programs are available in Coursera, Udemy and Khan Academy. There are plenty of courses taught by leading experts. There are many other places which can help to improve our knowledge; we just need to look for them. I recommend checking the information provided in this site.

We can continue studying without expending a lot of money.

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