At the beginning of the year I started some online courses: Coding with Codecademy, Valuation and Corporate Finance with Coursekit (which was later acquired by Lore), and Game Theory and Model Thinking with Coursera.
Together with other life and work commitments, it became tough to follow the courses and in the end I dropped them.
In autumn I received an email from a friend pointing to another online course: “Finance” from Venture Lab platform. I took a look at it… In the end I subscribed to 3 course from that platform: “Finance”, “Technology Entrepreneurship” and “A Crash Course on Creative Thinking”.
They were simultaneous and finishing them has been quite challenging; but this time, yes, I completed all of them.
I wanted to share with you some thoughts about the courses:
Finance: we could say that this was the more boring course for the general public (even though 32,500 students from all over the world subscribed to it… I don’t know how many completed it, probably less than 10%). It started with basic theory of interest and time value of money to get more into the fine details of term structure, building bond portfolios, risk measures, CAPM.
Every week there were about 1h30′ of videos to watch (some quite dull) and exercises to complete (not so easy to solve). On top of that, at mid-way through the course there was a project on bond portfolio (term structure calculation, immunization against rates changes, portfolio building) to be completed between teams.
Team working with different time-zones proved difficult in this project. But the possibility to discuss ideas and results, coupled with the online forum with dozens of students posting questions, problems, hints, etc., proved very valuable for the learning process.
A part from that, there was a textbook (“Investment Science” [PDF, 7MB], by David G. Luenberger) that could be consulted and, of course, Google ready to be posed all kinds of questions.
What did I learn? On the finance side: CAPM, time value of money, etc., were things I had already studied in the past, but not so the term structure, immunization and creation of bond portfolios, the detail and theory behind CAPM, etc. Other take away has been learning to use Microsoft Excel Solver Add-in to solve systems of equations (I hadn’t use it in the past).
Technology Entrepreneurship: Above 34,600 people from all corners of the world subscribed to this course. So many people with good ideas dream with setting up a company. I believe that is the best thing out of this course. You can feel the energy and passion in some of the teams.
The course consists of some weekly videos by the instructor (Chuck Eesley) and some assignment. The videos are great. Full of models, studies, cases, interviews to entrepreneurs, VCs, etc. Very rich content can be found there. The whole set of videos is available in Youtube, starting with the first video here.
This course was 100% practical and very fast-paced. You had to form a team and really get into launching a real product if you wanted to get the best out of the course. Assignments were due very one or two weeks, and included creating a business model canvas, identifying an opportunity, building a low-fidelity prototype of the product, testing the value proposition with customers, building a higher fidelity prototype, creating a marketing page and testing it… At the end of the course mentors for the team were also available.
Our team started out quite well. We all had a similar idea and completed the first steps (I posted about it), but later on we lost some momentum. It was a pity, but it also reflect how difficult is to form and work in a team in a start-up, especially as we were not seeing each other (based in the USA, France and UK). I guess that is one take-away of the course. Another lesson is related to the time you’re willing to commit to it. If carrying out the exercises took some time, starting a company will be a totally different undertaking… a full-time job.
From this perspective, it is good also the last assignment of the course, the “Personal Business Plan”. With it you can reflect on personal priorities, what you’re willing to do, how do you see yourself in some years time, etc.
A Crash Course on Creative Thinking: As I already explained in a previous post, I joined this course because I thought it could be fun and it consisted mainly on forcing yourself to be creative, to do things that you would normally never do. I was surprised to see that almost 41,600 students subscribed to it (more than to any of the previous 2 courses.
This course was light on videos and reading materials. It mainly consisted on completing the assignments. For that you had to break your comfort zone some times and always be on the look out for ideas. Some of the exercises included: observation of shops, filming a video combining objects to create a new sport, brainstorming for 100 solutions to a given problem, creating stories…
What did I learn? From the learning side I could mention the innovation engine model of the instructor, Tina Seelig, or the 6 thinking hats from de Bono. But more important than that was the idea of combining solutions, setting wild objectives such as coming up not with 10 ideas, but 100!
- Videos need to be engaging. It would be also good if the materials were available for reading in all cases.
- Team working proved difficult online: different time zones, tight deadlines, not being able to meet each other…
- Feedback from other students: some exercises required other groups to rate your work. This was a two-sided sword. Sometimes you would get good insightful comments and others a bad rating without feedback.
- Time: “online” doesn’t mean easy, nor short, quick… If there are exercises to complete, videos to film and edit, projects to prepare… it will require time (the same as if the instruction was given offline).
- Certificates: all three courses are not official Stanford courses, though the instructors send a “Statement of Accomplishment” after satisfactory performance and completion of the course. I guess that with time more institutions will go towards this model. I even think that official certificates will be delivered for these kind of online education.
- Market place: One of the courses included a survey after course completion. Among the questions two caught my attention: they were related to the reasons behind having taken the course. Was it the topic only? The teacher? The institution? Once you can have access to the best teachers, the best universities, the most innovative courses from your home, some things will change. When laboratories or practical exercises are still needed the old system may still have an edge. But who would pay thousands of dollars to study finance from the best Harvard teacher when you can get it free from Stanford or Columbia. The certificate, yes… and what is more: what will be the place in this market for smaller universities without a name in the global market place?