Working Environment

Virtual Learning

In the summer of 2013, I stopped drinking and started to learn. One can say that one addiction was replaced with another: the same passion that used to drive me from one bar to another now flung me into the world of online education. I took over 20 different courses in different subjects — from the world history to brain physiology, from introduction to paleontology to the philosophy of counterterrorism.

Perhaps, I could find another hobby, like hiking or making furniture, but all my attempts to get myself interested with something often stumbled upon insurmountable obstacles. I could do nothing with my hands, and thoughts of an active lifestyle made me yawn. So, I had to fall back on my inborn curiosity and to start to learn.

Virtual reality versus lethal boredom

Just as with many other graduates of Soviet and Russian schools, my idea of education was closely associated with the phrase “lethal boredom”. Yet, learning in the Internet turned out to be much more fun than learning at school — knowledge from all over the world was revealed right in the browser window! Online courses remind me of the famous scene from the Matrix, when a huge array of information and skills is instantaneously downloaded into the hero’s head. In real life, though, the process proved to be somewhat more complex than in the movies: homework was still there to be done.

It turned out that even homework could be exciting. The authors of some courses not only suggest remembering the contents of their lectures and then choosing the right answers in the tests but also provide you with an opportunity of doing a small research project, allowing a deeper insight into their subject. My friends and I have even established a virtual study group, in which we discuss lectures and assignments, prepare projects and generally simulate the activities of a normal student group in the format of a chat.

Future online

While only three years ago the Russian universities mainly ignored mass online courses, now any respectable institution of higher education tries not only to upload the recordings of lectures but also prepares special curricula for the educational platforms. Of course, there are also actors independent of the university medium, which also take part in the formation of the market of courses, for example, PostScience and Arsamas.

Different people are now involved in self-education in the Internet: among the people I know, both college students and professionals of long standing are taking online courses. While the former ones are thus trying to develop their professional skills, preparing themselves for the inevitable entrance into the labor market, the latter ones have other motivations. Some people want to take a deeper look at the area of their own professional tools, while for the others online education is another chance to try themselves in the new field. For example, for this purpose journalists study computer programming, realizing that the skills of working with algorithms will be in much greater demand in the nearest future than the ability of putting together words to make sentences.

Educational courses have not so far changed my life and, perhaps, have not made me any better. Yet, the knowledge which I obtained in the process of my education would become useful now and then. First of all, my understanding of the world has considerably expanded. Had it not been for the online courses, I would have learnt nothing about the sense organs of plants and about the specific features of the British architecture in the Iron Age. Sometimes lectures or assignments of my courses would become subjects of my notes in my almanac, and I took interviews from some of my lecturers.

The main conclusion I have made surfing on the online education waves is that to learn is interesting. The trauma inflicted by the Soviet school has finally healed.

Online Courses

Here are five online courses in Russian offered by Ilya Kabanov, the author of the almanac, which will help you extend your outlook, explore the structure of our world, and, possibly, discover a new profession to pursue.

Machine learning and data analysis

The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and Yandex have developed a joint specialization, which is a package of courses for those who want to understand what machine learning is. Perhaps, this is one of the most promising subjects related to technologies. Machine learning underlies most the services we use: it helps us find the information we need in the Internet, make bypass routes to avoid traffic jams, forecast weather, treat diseases, and much else. The students who will choose this specialization will be able to develop various practical projects they will later use in their work or demonstrate at their interviews in the leading global companies. If the idea of specialization seems too ambitious to you, you can start with one course — „ Introduction to Machine Learning“ offered by Yandex and the Higher School of Economics..

Economics for non-economists

The Higher School of Economics became one of the pioneers of online education in Russia: the university has been offering its courses to Coursera, which thousands of students take. For example, the course Economics for Non-economists will allow the students to get acquainted with the basics of economic learning within 10 weeks, get to know the most important terms and understand why the economy works the way it does. Of course, the course will not substitute a complete education in economics but it will definitely help the student expand his or her outlook and become a trigger for further studies. There are enough opportunities for that: for example, students can take a course in „the theory of games“.

The world of the Russian home and of the Russian toy

The website of the Pushkin Institute offers online courses in various subjects: from the grammar of the Russian language to space biology. The most intriguing course is devoted to the traditions of the Russian homes and of the Russian toys. The course teachers speak about the everyday life of medieval Russia, demonstrating the methods of making traditional toys. Do not miss the other programs of Pushkin Institute, like „Cooking Russian“ and the practical genealogy course.

The scientific method of Sherlock Holmes

The Far Eastern University demonstrates a systemic approach: its course presupposes a study of the basics of critical thinking. Hardly can a more useful skill be offered for the people of the 2010-s: we come across such a gigantic amount of information in social networks and messengers that we have to analyze and verify the information online and every day. I am not sure one course is sufficient for people to stop trusting cheats and liars but one should definitely start with something.

All Shakespeare

Let us make it sure: all the courses and lectured by „Arzamas“ are worth studying thoroughly. If you wish to make your life any better, devote your weekend or even a vacation to them. The course All Shakespeare, describing Shakespeare's life and ironically dedicated to the date of his death describes the theatrical world of the time, the nature of Shakespearian humor, literary piracy, and the Russian approach to Hamlet. Besides, Arzamas hasstickers for messengers
© Elia Kabanov

Elia Kabanov

Elia Kabanov, the editor of a popular science almanac, a science communicator, and an organizer of science popularizing events.


Almanac in the age of hypertext

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