I was recently introduced to FutureLearn by a friend of mine. It is really deeply exciting.
Basically, FutureLearn consists of free courses run by universities both in the UK and internationally. It’s a new programme and has all manner of short courses that are only designed to encourage learning. There is no qualification, no homework, no tests. The only point is learning for the sake of learning.
I think this is brilliant. Why shouldn’t we learn about things just for the sake of it? I think there is too much of an emphasis towards learning for a purpose, with tests and so on. I don’t really think that is always the point, though. I am very keen on keeping myself interested and busy, with a fiercely working brain. The brain is, I believe, the most important asset we have. We are always being told that we should exercise and eat healthily and keep our bodies fit, but there is no corresponding encouragement to keep our minds fit.
Of course, it is not just about keeping my brain active. It is also about obtaining new pieces of knowledge. Particularly as a writer, it is vital to keep feeding my brain with interesting things. If I do not, how can I possibly expect it to gift me with new ideas? Plus, there are actually courses on there that are useful to me.
At the moment, I am learning about cognitive poetics. Cool, right? This is about how we read, empathise with and have feelings about fictional characters. We know they are fictional, yet it doesn’t stop us from finding them frustrating, endearing or amusing. It combines literary theory with cognitive science and it is really fascinating. Coming up, I will be learning about forensic science and doing a course on writing fiction.
I am, as always, wary of taking on too much. You appear to be able to sign up for as many classes as you wish (at least, they haven’t stopped me yet!) and I have found that I have to be ruthless with the courses I choose. They require a very small weekly commitment (the largest I have seen so far is five hours a week), but even with two courses that quickly adds up. I could easily be seduced by the idea of learning about moons, kitchen chemistry or community journalism, but I have tried to keep it down to the things that I am interested in and might help me in the future. With the forensic science, I love writing crime fiction but find the police stuff a bit difficult, so I’m hoping this will help.
I strongly recommend that you have a look at the courses available: www.futurelearn.com. There is so much available and there is bound to be something for you. If you start something and it is great, please let me know. I only need a tiny push to encourage me to commit to far more learning than is necessary.