A Small-Business Owner Goes Back to School the MOOC Way: Part 1

January 31, 2013 — 2 Comments

After seeing massive open online courses (MOOCs) suck up all the oxygen in the higher-education room for the past year, I decided it was time to try out one of these things for myself. So I have jumped into the deep end of the pool: not just a MOOC, but a MOOC on finance. Yikes. I may own a business, but let’s just say my strengths are on the content and creative sides. No one will ever confuse me with the great corporate finance geniuses of this or any other age. This will represent my first schooling experience since graduating from college back in the ‘80s and attending the University of Denver Publishing Institute.

At the insistence of my friend Jonathan Rees, who blogged about his own MOOC experience last fall, I am going to share some of my thoughts about this MOOC as I proceed through the class. Today, in part 1, I share the basics about the class and focus on the Coursera experience.

Introducing Guatam

The course I am taking is “Introduction to Finance,” taught by Guatam Kaul from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. It is a 15-week course with an expected workload of 6-8 hours per week. The fundamental elements of the course experience are twofold:

  1. Video lectures by Guatam: 2 hours’ worth of lectures each week, broken up into 10- to 20-minute chunks.
  2. Exercises and assessments: There are exercises built in to each of the video lectures and then formal assignments to complete every 3 weeks. Plus a final exam at the end.

There is no formal textbook for the class, but Guatam does suggest a couple of optional ones, including one that is available for free online. I chose this one, as I’m sure nearly all students do.

To date I have watched only the introductory videos from Guatam, in which he carefully and methodically lays out the structure of the course, how it will operate, and how best to approach it. Judging from these early videos, I would bet that Guatam is extremely popular with his “real” students at the University of Michigan. He comes across as warm, congenial, funny, and highly approachable. You never have to wait long for a smile from him. He earnestly admonishes us to focus on the learning experience, not grades or the final certificate, and he begs us to approach the course with an open mind, curiosity, and a love of learning. He states that he decided to teach the MOOC because he strongly believes that education—even an experience from a globally renowned institution like Michigan—should be accessible to everyone. His videos are shot in intimate close-ups, which is perfect for an instructor like him. I think the videos will fly by because he is so good in this format and so fun to watch.

The Coursera Experience

This course is offered through Coursera, which has probably gotten more ink than any other MOOC provider. My initial thoughts about Coursera are from a web design and UX (user experience) perspective, something that I think about a great deal with our Milestone Documents service. No doubt Coursera had access to the best design and UX talent that venture capital can buy, and it shows. The interface is clean, uncluttered, and very easy to navigate. This is no small thing: presenting a complex design in a simple way is exceedingly hard. In addition, the videos are crystal-clear. There is surprisingly little in the way of student analytics, but I would expect to see a greater use of these from Coursera as their service matures.

Next up for me in this class, now that I have made my way through the introductory material, are the first lectures and exercises from the meat of the course: dauntingly titled sections like “Time Value of Money” and “Simple Future Value.” I will discuss my initial experience with the class material in my next post.

Neil Schlager

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  1. A Small-Business Owner Goes Back to School the MOOC Way: Part 2, or How I Got My First F | NeilSchlager.com - February 22, 2013

    […] TweetThis is the second post about my experience taking a MOOC (massive open online course). In part 1, I discussed the basics of the class and shared my early thoughts about the Coursera […]

  2. A Small-Business Owner Goes Back to School the MOOC Way: Part 3, the Textbook | NeilSchlager.com - March 18, 2013

    […] is the third post about my experience taking a MOOC (massive open online course). In part 1, I discussed the basics of the class and shared my early thoughts about the Coursera experience. In […]

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