I am in free course heaven these days! I blogged earlier about the Gamification course I started with, which was excellent. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the concept. There are quite a few misconceptions about what Gamification is (for instance, it is not the same thing as game development or game theory), and this course will absolutely clear them up for you. It is also full of excellent examples of gamification in real life and a decent overview of the psychology behind motivation, which is what gamification is really all about. Having jumped into a few more courses already, I can also tell you that Kevin Werbach, the professor of the Gamification course, is pretty comfortable lecturing to a camera, which is more important than you might think. That said, I’m excited about the other courses that are ongoing…
I decided some time ago that I needed to hone my design skills. I have a long background in software development, operations, and some product development and management, as well. I have always approached software with a feature-first perspective, though, and for too long I even classified myself as someone who isn’t creative. At least not in an aesthetic sort of way. I’m completely comfortable discussing, planning, and developing strategy about what software should do and how it should work, but how it should look? Not as much. The gamification course fell into that ‘what should software do,’ category, but my current courses are a bit different. Here’s a quick overview:
Human-Computer Interaction (Coursera – Stanford) – This course is taught by Scott Klemmer. I’m about 5 weeks in now, and knee deep in an interesting project. We’re running through the a typical software design life cycle, using great software to design our products (which are websites or mobile apps), and acting as usability testers for each other. For each assignment, we perform a peer review and analysis of the work of five other students. Like all of the courses I will write about, the biggest benefit of the format is the “homework.” It gives you a chance to really develop your ideas, and at least for me, doing is the best way of learning. I’ll post soon about the project I’m working on.
Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society (Coursera – University of Pennsylvania) – This course by Karl Ulrich is pretty much what it says it is – a design course, about the “things” humans create, in which I will have to create a “thing” of my choosing (so long as I can do it in 8 weeks). We’re just a week in, but so far, I like it quite a bit. The focus has been on identifying problems that need solutions and designing those solutions. This really resonated with the problem-solver in me, and I was glad I would be able to tie my project to something meaningful that drove me nuts. Part of our first assignment, in fact, was to list things that drive us nuts. The textbook, by Professor Ulrich, is also available for free in .pdf version.
A Crash Course in Creativity (Venture Lab – Stanford) – I’m in the second week of this course, and Tina Seelig, the instructor and Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, is completely comfortable in front of a camera. In the first week, we listened to a TED talk she did about creativity, which you can find here. In the next couple of days, I’ll be visiting half a dozen different stores, observing things about them from their atmosphere to design to the way their staff treat people to what they sell and whether people interact directly with their products. The goal is to “pay attention” and look for insights and hidden opportunities.
Like any new technology, these Massive Open Online Courses have their drawbacks. It is literally impossible to reach an instructor, so if you have a problem along the way, you need to be able to figure it out on your own or rely on your peers assistance in the forums. Given that these courses are not for formal credit, I think that’s manageable, but I have had moments of frustration. For instance, in one assignment, a file I uploaded appeared for me when I previewed my work, but wasn’t there when it was reviewed by peers, so I lost a significant chunk of points for a technical reason and I just have to live with it. Again, the course isn’t for real credit, but it may impact what “track” I’m placed in at the end of the course, and all of these courses have at least two paths through them – one is equivalent to an audit, where you listen to the lectures but don’t bother with the homework, and others are based on how much homework you do, or how in depth you go. Since they are not for real credit, I am focusing on the tracks that would at least get me certificates of completion that prove I did the work and got reasonable scores.
Another drawback is that tens of thousands of people do sign up, but many of them drop out along the way, and at least in the courses I’m taking, group assignments aren’t uncommon. It can be pretty maddening to try to decide when to just move forward without people. There are also technical glitches and bugs that the Coursera staff is still working out, but that’s to be expected. That said, the benefits still seriously outweigh the drawbacks, and this is just the beginning. I’m sure companies like Coursera are going places we can’t even yet imagine.