November 30, 2021

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Life, Learning, and Coursera Plus: What I learned while on parental leave

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Meet Bernard. He’s a data strategist at PwC and a committed lifelong learner. After earning his double master’s degree, he subscribed to Coursera Plus, and has continued to study topics such as artificial intelligence, design, and professional development. Today, he shares insights about his learning journey on Coursera after completing over 200 courses. You can also find his top study tips and note-taking advice on our blog. 

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we decided that I’d take parental leave and she would take the time to focus on finding a new job. I got to spend quality time with my daughter for four months, and it was a wonderful experience in learning how to be a parent and a stay-at-home dad.

In preparation for four months of parental leave, I lined up non-parenting activities for myself to help make the most of this time. As someone who’s been a longtime learner on Coursera, and a proponent of lifelong learning in general, I started building a learning schedule. 

I decided to select and rank all the courses that might interest me on Coursera. I ended up creating seven different folders of course bookmarks (in topics like leadership, personal development, data science, philosophy, and more) with more than 90 courses and Specialization to complete for the coming year. An ambitious goal, I know!

To maximize my savings, I signed up for Coursera Plus, Coursera’s subscription package that gives you access to 3800+ courses for roughly $34 per month.  

I’d now like to share my learnings and thoughts about the platform and the subscription approach. Let’s dive right in!

I’ve learned many things on Coursera, but I also realize there is always more to learn, even when you think you know a subject. You also can’t always know when certain things you’ve learned might become useful, even later in your life. In addition to the specific skills I’ve built, here are some of the other things I’ve learned:

I’ve learned how to communicate efficiently with people from around the world. It’s been quite a challenge, but I’ve developed the ability to present clear and well-built assignments that can be understood by anyone anywhere in the world, and I’ve learned to explain my ideas in the right order and in a clear way.

I’ve learned how to improve my note-taking. This came as a result of eventually realizing that I wasn’t always understanding things instructors were saying—I would think I understood everything, but then I wouldn’t be able to explain what I’d learned to other people afterwards. 

As a learner on Coursera, I have access to a huge base of specialized and deep knowledge. But I can’t remember everything, so I have to synthesize the content. When you do this, you start to be able to build bridges between the courses you’ve taken. This creates a richer experience as a learner. For instance, by taking a lot of courses about leadership, I am now able to provide information about a wide range of leadership theories.

I’ve learned the importance of tests. The best way to be sure that you understand something is to be tested on it—this is possible on Coursera through quizzes and assessments. And, the best way to be sure that you master a subject is to have to explain it to others. This is made possible on Coursera too, through written assignments.

My experiences on Coursera have really helped me find the most efficient way to be sure that I understand something—I simply do a presentation about the topic to my friends, family or colleagues! 

I really want to emphasize the idea that you don’t create anything without practice, and I encourage you to do something with your new knowledge so it doesn’t vanish. I also encourage you to talk about what you’ve learned and share what you’ve discovered.

I believe that the most important thing I’ve gained from Coursera is knowledge. As long as I focus and understand the courses, and as long as I take proper notes, this knowledge can be used again and again, and it can help me grow.

I often use this knowledge in my daily work. I can educate my colleagues, do a quick presentation about a subject I’ve studied, introduce more recent methodologies or processes, or challenge mainstream thinking. I can also use this knowledge in my personal life by talking about what I’ve learned with my relatives or implementing changes in my life—for example, after taking a personal development course. The thing you have to remember is that after every course you take, you will have new insights to implement in your daily life—professional and personal.

Here are some other things I’ve gained:

I’ve gained the ability to be more agile and flexible. If I have to work on a new subject, I will always have a look on Coursera—just like I was checking Wikipedia a few years ago. It’s really a great way to deepen your knowledge of a subject. I also talk to my colleagues to be sure that I understand the subject, and then I use Coursera to improve my knowledge. Once, I even used Coursera before a job interview because I thought that I didn’t know enough about a specific subject. It helped me a lot!

I’ve broadened my mindset through working with so many people from different cultures. I feel that If the teachers are able to create courses that fit students around the world, I should be able to complete clear and well-explained assignments. When doing my written assignments, I now spend time specifically trying to be more empathetic.

I’ve gained new insights into how I learn. I am now more realistic about what I know, because I realize that we often only have “partial knowledge” about the things we talk about. We often have the right general idea, but then we forget details like names, dates, and so on. Thanks to Coursera, I’ve learned how to fight this knowledge erosion. I now put much more time and focus on the details. Learning How to Learn was actually my first course on Coursera, and its new version “Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential” was my first course with Coursera Plus.

I’ve gained the ability to manage imposter syndrome. Once I realized how difficult it is to master a subject, I became much more affected by impostor syndrome, because I was realizing how much I didn’t know. In order to fight this feeling, I’ve learned to keep focused on the fact that I am constantly on a path to improvement. I understand that I am on a sort of a quest for knowledge, and that this is perfectly normal. As a consequence, the more I learn on Coursera, the more my answers are “I don’t know” or It’s complex.” Paradoxically, I feel more comfortable with my overall knowledge when I have this mindset.

There are over 77 million learners on Coursera. In general, I have found that the “student population” on Coursera is an educated group with the right mindset to learn and grow. I appreciated this particularly in the context of peer assignments and peer reviews. I enjoy being able to connect with a global community of learners.

One of the things I like most about Coursera is that the teachers and experts on the platform have experience, their subjects are deep and well-documented, and they share their knowledge in ways that are easy to understand. Coursera also makes it possible for experts with specialized knowledge to share their work and their discoveries with a broader audience. 

Having been learning on Coursera for years, I’ve seen the quality of content continue to level up, with the best teachers continuing to provide the best content. The platform allows for feedback from learners, which can help identify content issues. I continue to be really optimistic about the coming years on the platform. 

Coursera has also helped me to realize that one person with the right knowledge can change things for the better. In the past two years, outside my daily work in data management, I have been able to create a 4-hour e-learning course about data tools for my company that is now followed by more than 3000 people (about 85% of the company!), and it is quite a success. I also now give presentation skills training. I have trained more than 100 colleagues in just one month. 

I’ve also learned that there is no secret to success in life—improvement just comes from simply putting in effort day after day. I still have so much to do, to learn, to read, to build, and to accomplish. The funny thing with learning and improving, is that we don’t realize it while it’s happening. It’s only as I’ve looked and reflected on my journey that I am truly able to appreciate the role of learning in my life.

To conclude, what I would like to say to all current and future Coursera students is to remember that learning is good, but sharing is better. I would like to encourage you to be bearers of knowledge, because the world needs it. I would say you should always be ready to question yourself and what you know—the world needs this too. Finally, I want to remind you that you are the relayer of change, and this is something the world really needs.


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