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- Online learning platforms are great tools for both personal and career development.
- I've been interested in art for years, but I stopped investing time in the subject when it didn't apply to my college major.
- I used an affordable online course on Coursera - created by the Museum of Modern Art, one of the top museums in the world - to get back into a hobby I genuinely enjoy.
- Read more: Yale's most popular class ever is available free online - and the topic is how to be happier in your daily life
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I spent the summer after my sophomore year of high school in a small Italian town that trapped heat like a convection oven. Thanks to a scholarship, I got to spend my days relaying piazzas to paper with gritty, melting pastels and my nights in a peaceful local nunnery.
I've always loved art. But, years later, when it came time to choose a university (and with it, a career path), artistic aspirations took a backseat. Over the semesters, art moved further away from my everyday life. I allotted any extra time almost exclusively to my major instead - a strange habit that tends to follow us from college into our careers.
How I found the course
I searched popular e-learning sites like Udemy and edX, eventually landing on Coursera's Modern Art & Ideas. Part of a longer specialization in contemporary art and design, this course covered pieces and time periods I found the most interesting, required zero prior art history knowledge, and taught students how to continually apply the knowledge from the course to conceptualize art in everyday life. The course is free to audit for the first seven days of a Coursera trial, then it's $39 a month to continue learning (and even earn a certificate of completion by the end). Given that this course is only five weeks long (and you can learn at your own pace), it's likely that you could finish in one month, or for $39 total.
It was also created by one of the most noteworthy museums in the world, the Museum of Modern Art. The beautiful thing about remote learning is that you can take classes on virtually any topic, and at the sort of level you may not be able to access otherwise, like online courses and programs curated by Ivy League schools. For a fraction of the cost of attending in person, the main tradeoff is you'll need to supply a bit more personal accountability.
The specifics of online learning differ by platform and course, but online classes are relatively affordable and easy to fit into your busy life. They can help you quickly adapt to changing job markets, or help you get deeper into personal hobbies for less money and time than enrolling in a local college class.
For me, online learning meant I could finally take the "fun classes" I could never fit into my college schedule. I've been interested in art for years, but adulthood provided me with free time to really learn about it at my own pace.
What Modern Art & Ideas was like as a student
Modern Art & Ideas was broken up into five sessions, with different assignments and material to be covered each week (estimated to take you about an hour per week to complete).
The materials were primarily slideshows and videos with supplemental resources you could read, and weeks two through five had quick 10-question quizzes to complete. The course also had discussion forums available for you to discuss the class with the other students.
The material was manageable and really didn't require prior knowledge in the area. For convenience, you can set up push notifications to remind you to study and download the material for offline reading. And since there were definitely times when I didn't want to study, the self-pacing was essential - it took the pressure off of learning and let me simply enjoy the course. I caught up when I could, or worked ahead if I wanted to.
What I got out of the course
The experience was remarkably positive. I freshened up my general art history knowledge, was inspired to head to the Museum of Modern Art itself for a little field trip (which you can do virtually), and started listening to a podcast recommended as supplemental material that I likely would never have found otherwise ("A Piece of Work" by the comedian Abbi Jacobson). Later, I gifted tickets to one of the exhibitions mentioned in the podcast to my boyfriend as a birthday present.
The course is structured by the four themes that educators at the MoMA frequently use in their teaching - Places & Spaces, Art & Identity, Transforming Everyday Objects, and Art & Society - so I've actually enjoyed my independent museum visits more, now that I have new ways of thinking about what I'm seeing, apart from the plaque of information and a gut reaction.
The bottom line
I noticed that adulthood had a way of narrowing my interests until I was essentially majoring in my career. I was concerned that, without noticing, I'd spend the next decade ignoring other interests and rounding out unique, distinguishable edges in the efficient pursuit of becoming more "professional." Not only did that seem myopic and counterintuitive (dynamic people provide dynamic thought to a team), but it seemed boring.
It feels like our happiness, diversity of thought, and, hey, even the quality of small talk at happy hour, could be exponentially improved just by taking the time to explore these other interests - even if it's just a free guitar lesson from Fender.
The Modern Art & Ideas class has made me happier and feel more versatile and less stagnant in my adult life - which, to be honest, can morph into a cycle of work, Netflix, sleep.
Plus, now that I've gotten over the hurdle of just starting a course in the first place, it seems easier to keep taking more. Knowing now that it didn't transport me back to stressful all-nighters in the college library has been a relief, and so has seeing how seamlessly and easily additional education could fit into my own life. I have plans for other courses, some art-related and some not, for the next time I find myself with free time to explore.
I can't speak to every course online, but I can say that - at least for me - online courses are the perfect way to pay some attention to your individual interests, actually become a lifelong learner, and keep yourself engaged (and pleasantly surprised) by the everyday.