Learning is. . .

A while back I found out that the OU do loads of short, free courses. I think you’re meant to use them as tasters for the main (paid for) courses. So, you’re thinking of going in to Psychology but you’re not sure, you look through their free courses and there’s one called ‘Starting with Psychology’. You try it. If you like it, you can go on to do a full-time degree. You don’t, you can look for something else. Or, you think something sounds interesting, you do the short course and you simply have to learn more so you sign up to a longer course. Quite brilliant really! It’s good as well because although you don’t get an actual qualification for doing these, the site keeps a record of what you’ve done, and for some you get a certificate or a ‘badge’ at the end for completing the course.

After dithering for ages about whether I should give some of these a go, I realised how stupid that was – they were free, I could work at home, at my own pace, and they were only between one and twenty-four ish hours long. Needless to say, I started looking through them properly, and there’s loads that sound really interesting; for me, that’s not the issue. The thing is, how do I choose one? How do I even narrow it down? I can’t do all of them at once, and if I’m going to do this I want to do it properly. Most obvious: start with something to do with writing. It’s relevant, could be interesting, and if I’m lucky could improve my work. What’s not to love? I signed up for ‘Start Writing Fiction’, a 12 hour introductory course, for which all I needed was a computer and an internet connection. Brilliant. I was expecting to be taken to a different page, or sent an email or something. No, it just goes straight to the first topic; chucking you in with reading and activities. . . And it’s interesting stuff; things I might have already known or picked up myself, but set out properly and clearly explained. I whizzed through.

Problem: I was reading the information, going through the activities – and not writing anything! It was too easy just not to because the activity was really short or I thought it was silly, and there was no-one to know! It was all self-evaluation, self-motivation. So having started out determined to do this properly, from the first I’d been skipping bits.

What’s that about, especially as I consider myself to be quite a motivated and disciplined person?

Simple answer: I need a tangible reason for doing things. To say, ‘it might improve you’re writing’, apparently isn’t a good enough reason for me. Get it done for marking, for deadlines, even just for writing a story; all fine reasons. Writing a paragraph about setting so I can read it through to get a point I feel I’ve already grasped; not so much. Telling me to write things in my ‘journal’ too – it makes me shudder! If you mean notebook, say so. I don’t have a journal, I’m not getting one, and if I did I wouldn’t write that sort of thing in it. The funny thing is, from what I’ve heard the real OU courses aren’t like that at all. You have deadlines, you have regular meetings or contact with an actual person. . . Maybe these free courses aren’t so much a taster for the main meal, but a test: are you interested enough, disciplined enough, to work through these and stick to it on your own? If yes, you’ll be fine on one of our courses!

Worth it? Well, the course had interesting information, and I read all of it. Plus, even before I’d finished I noticed I was more aware of my writing than I had been. (I might argue that’s not such a good thing, but surely it shows something of the course must have stuck, and it prompted me to think about the technical side of writing a bit if nothing else!) I’d also forgotten one important thing: this was a free, introductory level course. That means the information is going to be basic – introductory – stuff. Even so, some of it was still new to me, or at least a different way of thinking about it, so you never know.

There are plenty of other courses on there about all sorts, though unfortunately few linked with writing. But they say experience gives you new things to write about, and you should never pass up an opportunity, so I’ll certainly be looking at some of the others available.

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