Education has been increasingly more democratised by the internet and more broadly through digitisation. This has given us, the eager minds of the world, the great opportunity to explore the causes of things at minimal costs. Opportunities range from deepening one’s own skill set and knowledge or exploring a completely unfamiliar field of science and develop personally.
I believe there are basically three different reasons for learning: (1) develop the theoretical base for your chosen subject, (2) develop hard (i.e. technical) skills for your chosen industry, and (3) develop soft skills through interdisciplinary courses and courses outside your chosen field. Studying the theory required for our desired industry is what most of us do at the University of London. This is the very foundation and starting point for the rest of our journey. But it certainly does not end here.
Looking beyond your programme
To be an innovative thinker, one has to look beyond her own course and look for intersections in other sciences potentially not having been found yet. An obvious example is the overlap of mathematics, engineering, economics, and finance. The use of statistics has revolutionised the finance industry. Although the importance of diversification was fairly obvious, it was not until statistics theory was applied to finance when the optimal portfolio was discovered. Hence, it was interdisciplinary thinking that brought about innovation. In one of my previous articles on What can we learn from Einstein, I discussed how interdisciplinary thinking had an effect on Einstein’s achievements and how important the interaction between different parts of our brain is for success. Neuroplasticity has shown that routine and, with it, patternlike-thinking ages our brain and hence possibly prohibits innovation within any organisation or for an individual for that matter. To use an example related to the University of London, our past fellow student Julian has explained how the intersection between engineering and philosophy has made him a better engineer and in addition, has contributed to his personal life by making him think about how to conciliate religion and science.
Another important reason for learning is the fast-paced change in the private sector. To use the finance industry as an example again, the importance technology and automation plays is increasing, and banks are planning on reducing operational staff by up to half (1). And yet, finance is still a rather popular choice of study which increases the competition for jobs. Those who want to succeed in the industry need to have developed an understanding of all the changes occurring such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation or more broadly, have abilities on a more technical level e.g. coding and engineering skills. This is the hard reality and we can hope to be lucky or take charge and develop those skills. This is what I called hard skills above.
Do an MOOC in the “break”
Using massive online open courses (MOOCs) is the perfect way to exploit your free time before the next academic year begins and develop those hard and soft skills. The supply of different platforms is immense, and I would like to tell you about my personal experiences with different providers.
Courses are mostly available for free but if you want to earn a verified certificate you have to pass quizzes or assignments after each chapter and pay a small fee of about $50 at edX and Coursera. At first, I used the platform edX, founded by MIT and Harvard, to explore Chinese culture and history through a course offered by Hong Kong University. Back then, I used MOOCs to follow other interests of mine. But in 2015 when I started my journey with the University of London, I used Coursera, a platform were, similar to edX, universities upload their courses and you can access most of them for free. I thought it would be a nice idea to follow the whole lecture series on ‘Financial Markets’ by Professor Robert Shiller from Yale while completing the course ‘Introduction to banking and finance’ at the University of London. This was helpful since the lectures served as a good supplement to the course. Hence, a MOOC course can also be a good way to support your core course university. Coursera and edX are certainly my two favourite platforms since for each course there is a great university behind it which guarantees high quality and cutting-edge knowledge. Although, for soft skills I cannot assess how helpful it is for job applications to have MOOC certificates on your CV, I believe it is a good way to show your ambition and interdisciplinary interests on LinkedIn or other employment-oriented websites.
A third platform I highly recommend is Udemy. On this platform, everyone can create a course and upload it. Course prices, however, can range heavily and sometimes become quite expensive. It is another great example of our share-economy. Similar to Wikipedia, we share knowledge here. Although there are no universities behind the courses that guarantee quality, from my personal experience, the user ratings provide a very good insight into the quality of the course and most courses were created by experts in their industry. On Udemy I have completed two courses; one in Neuroscience and the other in Neuroplasticity. Both were practical and created by an academic who worked in research for many years, has a deep passion for teaching, and has created the Brainacademy to teach people about our brain and how we can improve its capacity. I would recommend Udemy if you could not find your desired course on Coursera or edX and the course has a rating between 4.0 and 5.0.
Until now, I have only taken courses to support my studies at the University of London or gain insights into other scientific fields. However, the current development in implementing technology into all kinds of industries has unearthed an interest in coding within me. After I did some research, I thought a good place to start is learning Python and then Java programming with the former one already in progress with the help of Udemy. There I could find highly-rated courses on Python for finance and Python for financial analysis and algorithmic trading. Those skills are directly helpful in my job and often require some theoretical knowledge base as discussed above. It is important to acquire such skills since it bridges theory and real-world application and it makes you more competitive in your industry. Specifically, for IT skills the platform Udacity enjoys a good reputation among employers. However, I have not yet gained experience with the platform and can therefore not tell you much about it.
There are many ways to learn. Some like to read by themselves and others need to engage more with peers. MOOCs provide you with an opportunity to learn by yourself or get in touch with others while you deepen your knowledge, expand your horizon in a different subject, or acquire skills for a job. No matter what your next milestone in the project life is for you, learning is indeed a never-ending journey and does not need to take vacations. There is no such thing as fully-trained or perfect knowledge and even a ‘superhero’ still needs to learn.
Arnold is studying BSc Economics and Finance by distance learning in Germany.
1. Noonan, Laura. Citi issues stark warning on automation of bank jobs. Financial Times. [Online] 12 June 2018. https://www.ft.com/content/579c977c-6d73-11e8-92d3-6c13e5c92914.