Thursday, October 15, 2009

Online Learning Part 1

Today, I want to write about my online courses in general. I want to encourage others to try it if they haven't already because it has really opened up my world.

Recently, I had been feeling a bit stunted in Japan. There are not a lot of opportunities here to have deep discussions with people. I don't attend regular group activities like book discussions, church, parties, lectures, events, etc., where I could potentially learn something. I watch CNN sometimes, but what they show here in Japan is extremely D-U-L-L. I rarely watch Japanese TV, much less the news, because I don't understand much, and it's not interesting anyway. At work, my co-workers, if they were not complaining about work, were talking about sex or other bodily functions. I think I already know enough about those topics.

When I took my first maternity leave with Ailin, I remember clearly that my goal for the year 2007 was to develop my friendships in Japan. I took great pains to do that. I was out and about every day with Ailin, making friends, listening to friends, walking, shopping, eating with friends. I got burned badly by one of those friends, and in many ways, lost my desire to make new friends.

Some of those friends I made in 2007 did stand the test of time and are still my friends today., maybe just one or two. I have to be honest, going back to work full time, required me to make some choices. Letting many of those friendships fall by the wayside was one of them. I only continued to be friends with a few who didn't require much effort on my part and who can speak English fluently.

So, for the year 2009, knowing I would be on maternity leave, my main goal was this: develop my skills.

What skills? Well, when it comes to online learning, pretty much ANY SKILL is fair game. My friend Chris is subscribing to lectures provided by Yale University through iTunes - free podcasts! She listens to them on her way to work. I think she is currently working her way through a history class. Just like you can find podcasts on virtually any topic, you can probably find online classes about any topic.

I'll write about how I got into online learning based on my interests.

Online Learning - Evolvement
The first I heard of online classes was when certain universities began offering online degrees. For those of us who live in Japan, online degrees in TESOL were highly coveted. I looked into it, but didn't want to pay the fees, and I wondered how motivated I would feel doing all the coursework, alone ... in my own house, without the loving support of a husband who believes strongly in continuing education. I didn't realize that these online courses would entail live discussions via internet forums, personal email messages traded between classmates & professors, actual meetings a few times a year.

My desire to get a Masters Degree in TESOL fell by the wayside due to lack of support, but I was interested in learning other things. Barnes & Noble offered free online classes in conjunction with their books, sometimes taught by the authors themselves. The first class I took was called Speed Reading. I diligently bought the book, did the daily exercises, participated in the forum & wrote reports about my progress.

One night, I was sitting in the living room with my print out practicing some of the reading exercises when my husband arrived home from work unexpectedly early.

You'd think he had caught me with another man. I was threatened with a divorce for wasting my time on such things. According to him, I should be studying Japanese or cleaning the house. I wondered what else I was supposed to do with my time? He rarely arrived home before midnight. And, I was sick of studying Japanese every day.

I never touched that class again. The desire for (online) learning went straight out of my heart for fear of getting caught again.

You can see now why for several years, I hid many things from my husband. And, you can understand why it has become a habit now...I am trying to break myself of this. I realize now that he doesn't care so much anymore, and that I am not actively studying Japanese so that pressure is off. (After after 5 years of weekly Japanese classes, I passed the 2-kyuu exam and opted to go no further.)

Last year, I did my first online project through Aly Edwards' blog. She is a writer and scrapbooker who also teaches online courses, but I didn't know that at the time. The project was to make a "Week in my Life" album. I did the album, but I didn't fully participate in the class. I think, at the time, I didn't understand how one really does participate in these online experiences.

Earlier this year, I got a little curious about online classes again because I'd been reading about Big Picture Scrapbooking classes. I decided to try a few. Then, I started hearing about Jessica Sprague classes, which focus more on Photoshop and the digtal aspect of scrapbooking. I also heard that her classes were extremely fast-paced, so I kept my distance.

The BPS classes that I took focused more on writing. The first one required that you post your finished lay outs to the gallery each week. Gallery? What the heck is that? Well, I was doing traditional pages, so I had to photograph my pages and upload them to the gallery. The instructor along with other students in the class commented on them...all positive feedback of course. I didn't realize it at the time, but there was also a forum to participate in.

The 2nd class I took at BPS was also about writing but from different perspectives. I have posted some of my lay outs from both of these classes on this blog. This class was good too, but since I didn't realize there was a forum, I felt like I didn't get all that much from the class. I did post on the gallery, but the instructor was not as committed to giving feedback about the lay outs. Also, I was disappointed in the Week 2's assignment, which was to create an entire album about a holiday. It was the middle of July. Her example was a Xmas album from 2004. That really confused me.

After that, I felt I was ready to dig into Jessica Sprague classes, and besides, she was offering one for free for a limited time. Now, as you know, I am hooked on JS classes, so I hope she keeps 'em comin'.

I write more about what these classes entail in a few posts.

1 comment:

Orchid64 said...

You might want to investigate the Academic Earth videos (and podcasts) at:

My husband and I have listened to several of them and really enjoyed learning from them and discussing them.

Also, if you're interested in digital learning, there are tons of great tutorials online for Photoshop and such. I tend to focus on vector-based tutorials (or layout in InDesign) for Illustrator, but there are many of them out there if you want to boost your Photoshop abilities. I studied and passed the ACE (Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop) test awhile back with a book that Adobe sold so I'm not buffing Photoshop skills so much.

I know exactly what you mean about feeling a bit stunted and not having people to have deep conversations with. This is often a serious problem for expats in Japan, particularly if they have a Japanese spouse because language and cultural barriers make it harder to converse on deep topics. My husband isn't Japanese so I don't have this problem, but I can very much empathize with how you feel.