The handful of you who know me in real life will already be aware that I’ve become a bit of a bore over the last couple of years.
No, not about index trackers, or high-yielding shares.
Instead, I’ve been boring people on the subject of another sort of investing: investing in human capital, namely myself.
That’s right. I’ve been getting an education.
Now, let’s put that in context, lest you all think that you’ve been reading words penned by some unlettered ignoramus.
I actually have four degrees, including a Ph.D and MBA. But time, as they say, marches on, and as I approached 60 I was increasingly aware that a growing proportion of what I’d learned was past its sell-by date.
Which, when – like me – you earn your crust selling what you know, raises some troubling questions. In particular, I recognised that my data analytics skill set was looking very dated.
The amount I knew about open source analytics and modelling packages such as R, for instance, was zero.
Whizzy analytics techniques such as Excel’s pivot tables? Likewise.
Handy analytics and numerical analysis packages in Python, another open source language? Ditto.
At which point, let me share the broader strategy with you.
I’ve always enjoyed analytics, and that Ph.D involved some fairly hefty statistics and multiple regression modelling. A not-insignificant part of what I do for a living is writing-up survey results, and carrying out secondary analysis. Clients send me Excel spreadsheets or SurveyMonkey output, and off I go.
(My rates are very reasonable, so if you’d like to discuss a project, get in touch. Note to our host, The Investor: I take it that I am allowed such gratuitous promotional plugs?)
I’d like to do more of this sort of work, and quite frankly see it as a very enjoyable – not to mention rewarding – potential retirement activity.
But as I’ve said, the world is moving on, and my analytics skill set was largely mired in 1970s and 1980s techniques and applications. Heck, back then the spreadsheet had only just been invented.
Incidentally, does anyone else remember working with VisiCalc? Or SPSS? (Now owned by IBM, and eye-wateringly expensive for individuals to buy, as is rival SAS’ equivalent package.)
Massively Open Online Courses
Hence the grand plan: Get up to speed with more modern analytics techniques and applications, and also catch up with more modern approaches to analytics.
But how? Enter the world of ‘MOOCs’, otherwise known as Massively Open Online Courses.
MOOCs come in a number of flavours. Leading American universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, for instance, provide online learning. Britain’s Open University is arguably one vast MOOC.
Any number of computing-specific MOOCs exist. My son and some of his friends, for example, are ploughing through courses at Coding Academy. The well-known Khan Academy also counts as a MOOC, although it lacks features found in some others. Ditto LinkedIn’s Lynda.
In short, MOOCs are hot, and venture capitalists (and philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates) are pouring money into them.
What you get
So I’ve been taking courses at Coursera, and at edX. Both take the route of partnering with leading universities and other entities (such as Microsoft, say, for IT-specific courses) to offer a vast range of courses in all kinds of subjects.
From my experience, a typical course takes four weeks, and may be combined with others to form a specialisation.
A typical four week course costs in the range of £35-£45, which certainly meets my definition of ‘open’. Many permit learning for free, but the advantage of paying is that you get a certificate that can be posted on LinkedIn or shown to employers. Learn for free, and you don’t.
All courses have online forums where students can interact with others in their four-weekly cohort, and interaction with lecturers and teaching assistants is common.
There are lecture videos to download and watch, tests to pass, and assignments to perform. Individual approaches to deadlines vary – most will allow slippage if you pass by the end of the course. A recent Coursera innovation is to allow learners to move from one four-week course to another, if they fall behind.
Pass or fail?
My experience has been overwhelmingly positive. In just short of two years I’ve completed 12 courses, all of which feature on my LinkedIn profile. I’m almost at the end of a further one.
Courses vary in quality. The medium is new, and not every university and every instructor is yet up to speed with the limitations and advantages of MOOC-based online learning.
If you value interaction with other students (such as when you’re stuck on a particular problem) then busy courses are obviously better than quieter ones.
But, as I say, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive, and I have most definitely gained the skills that I was looking for.
Indeed, I’d go further: I can see me becoming a ‘serial offender’ – because as new courses are added, it’s oh-so-tempting to sign up.
Silver surfing studying
For the Monevator crowd – and in particular The Greybeard’s own retirement-focused readers – the merits of MOOCs are obvious.
Low-cost learning – what’s not to like? Either as a retirement hobby, to keep the grey cells ticking over, or like me to refresh old skills (or acquire new ones) in order to keep up-to-date with what is going on in the world of work.
Or, to whet your appetite even more, to acquire investing and finance skills. Yes, there are MOOCs here, too.
As I say, my own experience has been at edX* and Coursera. But let me leave you with a taster of what is on offer in the money-related domain – MOOC Tracker, a popular link, maintained by the Financial Times, of business and finance-specific MOOCs.
See you online!
Note: If not using the hyerlink URL above, please be aware that edX is to be found at www.edx.org, and not www.edx.com.