One MOOC to rule them all by Rodrigo Gutiérrez
Sitting at the last row of the lecture hall, sleepy and hungover, I re-read my paper for the very last time, put down my pen, and sighed. It was over. 4 and a half years had gone by. I had just endured my very last Finals ever. I picked up my jacket, stood up proudly, stretched a bit, looked around condescendingly and walked down the lecture hall with a solemn, overstated stride. I delivered my paper to the examiner. I was free.
It was now that I would have the time to freely pursue my passions, to intern at my dream company in Paris, and especially, to educate myself outside the bureaucratic academia. It was also time to seriously look into MOOCs.
I chose “Learning How to Learn” by UC San Diego
I had been seduced by the inclusion of a powerful productivity technique (Pomodoro) in the course description and by the excellent reviews. I didn’t know it that day, but I was in for a beating.
In Week One, I learned of the existence of focused and diffuse modes, the two main states in which our mind operates. It turns out that when you stop paying attention to a specific, say, lecture or problem set, and go out for a walk or start making yourself a sandwich, your brain just doesn’t let go. Instead, ideas and problems are processes freely by your unconscious.
It’s in this kind of free state that you can get your Eureka moment. It is the kind of state your mind enters when you sleep, and that geniuses like Salvador Dali and Thomas Alva Edison exploited for their creative and scientific endeavors.
This surely meant that studying something really hard, for several hours was not the way to go. By doing so, I had prevented my ideas from dancing with my accumulated wisdom and past experiences, which had been probably sitting around, waiting for this moment to be invited to the dance floor and be useful.
The following week I learned about illusions of competence, the actual name of the dangerous delusion of believing we understand a topic while we in reality just feel more comfortable around it.
Simply put, it’s easy to feel you understand a text, a problem or an idea because of our brain and especially our sight got used to looking at the document. I then remembered how confident I felt before an International Law test, and how confused and clueless I turned out to be during the actual exam.
I had thought there was no need for me to solve the practice cases, that everything was crystal clear. It was an illusion of competence. The mediocre grade I got in Law was disappointing, but realizing I had deluded myself for half a decade wrongly believing I mastered subjects I did not actually hurt.
Week after week I felt more and more naked at the truths and learning being revealed to me. Me, the quintessential clutch test taker, had finally realized it. My time as a student was probably over, but my career as a learner, was just starting…