7 Reasons to Take a Class Online

Creative Commons Clemens Locker

Creative Commons Clemens Locker

If you’ve been putting off signing up for an online course, I have three words for you: Just do it!

Why? Well, I’ve got seven compelling reasons (and a caveat):

1. Big Thinkers. Online courses connect you to incredible thought leaders. Seth Godin offered his first course on Udemy this year. I paid the $27 and signed up. Why? Because I’m always eager to hear what he has to say and I know I’ll rarely see him in person.

2. Timely Topics. If there’s a topic I want to learn more about, there’s a good chance I can find a course on it. For example, when I wanted a course on Big Data, I was able to sign up for a free course with Ryan Baker through Coursera.

3. Diverse Approaches. Taking online courses helps me to see what approach others take to teaching that topic. I learn which materials they choose, how they organize them, and how they design the experience for the learner. Most recently, I’ve taken edX’s Data Wise course for that reason.

4. Multiple Perspectives. Online courses offer me a quick way to gauge the instructor’s perspective on a topic. What views are they sharing? What resources get prioritized? Which authors or speakers get a voice? Which perspectives are missing? How do their perspectives compare to others in the field, as well as my own?

5. Many Ways in. When I take an online course, I can enter it at any point. That may mean taking a course after it’s been offered in real time. It may also mean registering for a course and then diving in a few days, weeks or months in, after it’s already begun.

6. Useful Tools. Courses like Jane Friedman’s MBA for Writers or Jeff Goins’ Intentional Blogging course help me gain specific skills, like intentional blogging or search engine optimization (SEO). They also help me sense make a new learning landscape.

7. Maximum Flexibility. I can engage with the information provided in any way I like. I can do a deep dive, get a broad understanding, work through every assignment and project, and so on. It’s up to me. And it depends on what I need and how much time I have.

What else do you need to know? Well, some online courses are free (e.g., Coursera and edX), while others require payment (Udemy, Jane Friedman’s MBA for Writers). Others are ways for folks to swap their expertise (e.g., Jeff Goins’ course on Intentional Blogging) for your email address (to grow their email lists). You can choose whether you want to audit the course or, where offered, take it for credit or certification. Especially if you audit, don’t let the fear of an “incomplete” deter you – this won’t be held against you in future courses.

Oh. And here’s a caveat: research shows that we ascribe more value to what we pay for. In fact, the value we ascribe increases the more we pay. In may case, I paid $27 for Seth Godin’s Udemy course. As a result, I viewed many classes, downloaded a number of handouts, and worked through some of the reflection exercises. In contrast, with Jane Friedman’s MBA for Writers course, where I paid $249 for all 6 sessions at 1.5 hours each, I not only downloaded every resource but also attended the sessions in real time, contributed questions and ideas, and connected with session participants on and offline.

What’s next? Well, I’m looking forward to taking Andrew Ng’s course on Machine Learning and Pieter Abbeel’s course on Artificial Intelligence. Most likely, I’ll also audit an economics course. Best part? They’re free, they’re available to me whenever I want to get started, AND they’ll connect me to the big ideas and deep thinkers associated with these topics.

Let me know which online courses you’ve taken or plan to take this year!

This Week’s Reading Salon



Salon? Yep. Inspired by Maxine Greene and the Sunday Salons she held weekly in her apartment with students, friends, and colleagues. Their goal was to expand their thinking on the topics of art and the imagination, Maxine’s areas of expertise. They’d discuss works of literature and philosophy and explore how these works informed their practice as researchers, educators, and human beings.

This post is a far cry from Maxine’s inspiring salons, but is inspired by them. My goal is a simple one: to share a few of the things I’m reading this week that inspire, challenge or expand my thinking in some way. While I may read a number of things one week, I may read very little the next. I welcome a virtual discussion.

I reference five sources this week. Nearly all have some connection to the brain and the field of neuroscience.

Here goes! Continue reading

Why We Need to Stop Singing the Artificial Intelligence Blues



It started with Alex Garland’s film, Ex Machina. That’s when I noticed it — the tendency that exists right now in the media to predict gloom and doom for artificial intelligence (AI).

Consider Garland’s film. It’s engaging yet, like many of the stories being told right now about the future of AI, paints a somewhat bleak picture. The film’s “mad scientist,” Nathan (updated to be a brilliant but arrogant programmer), creates a sentient AI prototype and then iterates on it. Ava is his latest version. Continue reading

Blame Your Brain for How You Handle Change

renjith krishnan

renjith krishnan

A few months ago, we moved from one apartment to another in the same building. A move like that is about as easy as it gets. We knew the layout of the building, many residents, and store locations nearby. Not much change there, right?


After several years in our old apartment, I’d stopped thinking about which button to press when I got in the elevator. After the move, I had to pay attention. Otherwise, I’d find myself on my old floor. I had to pay attention, too, when I got out of the elevator. I had to force myself to head left instead of right.

With such minimal change, why did I have to pay nearly the same kind of attention I’d paid when I first moved into the building? Continue reading

The Surprising Truth about Innovation

photoDiscovery? Invention? When’s the last time you heard these words used in relation to something completely new? Now think about the word innovation. How often have you heard that word or seen it in print?

If you think it’s a fluke, go ahead and enter the words discovery, invention, and innovation into Google’s Ngram Viewer. You’ll quickly see how the word innovation is on the rise, while the terms discovery and invention are slipping.

It’s not a coincidence. Continue reading

How to Create Powerful Stories

oceanGame of Thrones. Mad Men. Orphan Black. Week after week, millions of viewers tune in to watch. Why? Because we love powerful stories.

Well-crafted stories resonate. At the same time, they can instruct and persuade. Writers and marketers recognize the key elements most compelling stories include, while researchers explore the ways our brains respond. We understand the patterns and the science behind them, yet one question remains: how do we generate ideas for the powerful stories we want to tell?

Having spent the past several days at a storytelling conference, I’ve got four simple strategies to share: Continue reading

4 Simple Stepping Stones for Easy Learning



With so much information available online, it can feel like learning’s gotten infinitely more complicated. But what if it were as simple as crossing a creek by jumping from stone to stone?

Consider this example: I’ve got a book coming out in the fall of 2015, so I want to learn how to create a platform to launch it online. As I’ve been curating information, I’ve noticed that the steps of my learning process look a lot like the steps you take to cross a creek. Continue reading