Lessons to learn?

With so much going on across the public sector, do you feel like you need to go back to school for some refresher courses? Maybe your role has evolved to include social media, ICT skills or new ways that you need to communicate with the public. If you’re like me, the biggest hurdle is time. And beyond the ‘what’, there’s the ‘how’ so here are some resources that you might not know about.


MOOC is the acronym for ‘massive open online course’, which is a browser-based university-type offering aimed at unlimited participation and open access. Wikipedia lists quite a few MOOCs including some free ones but some of the ones labelled ‘commercial' let you sign up for all kinds of classes for no cost. However, if you want a certificate for completing the course or a specialisation programme, you’ll need to ante up.

There are lots of ICT-related MOOC classes: data science, programming, software security, image processing, etc. I’ve taken a couple of Coursera classes and was impressed with the quality of the material — lecture videos, course-specific forums, textbooks — and the people teaching. People I’ve talked to have had a range of good and bad experiences (eg instructors who aren’t good teachers, poorly designed website delivery) so not all MOOCs or even classes are created equal.

If you’re curious about MOOCs, take a look at this New York Times article, Demystifying the MOOC, which notes some interesting details about the original business model versus reality.

Learning HTML

I headed down this learning path because I wanted to find an HTML tutorial. Oddly, I couldn’t find one at a MOOC but someone did point me to the Mozilla Developer Network for this. So far, the tutorials are pretty straightforward and I think that they'll be useful.


To start, the team I work on is quite small but covers a lot of ground. We have plenty of HTML expertise but no-one has a lot of time. So if I can handle 80% of what's needed to write blog posts, it’s less of a burden for someone else to review it for more complicated issues like Web Standards compliance.

Also, communicating online is part of today’s reality. I think HTML will help me understand programming — even if it’s at the most basic level — and do my job better. This Business Insider article by Madeline Stone gives a more detailed view of why coding is an important skill.


Another tip — which sounds so old fashioned I almost don’t want to include it — is your library. E-book collections have been growing amazingly fast over the last couple of years to include a lot of ICT books. For example, the Wellington City Library has 211 e-books listed in its ‘computer technology’ section. On the paid subscription side of e-books is Safari Books Online, which I use all the time to find books on whatever topic I need at the moment. The cost starts at US$25 per month but you can read an unlimited number of books (my inner librarian loves the words ‘unlimited books’) and even save a few for offline reading.

Independent learning

Learning on your own can be more challenging but it’s helpful to know the options so you can decide what to take. If you read the NYT article, you’ll see that people are using MOOCs to learn what they need and move on - they don't always finish the class. I do the same: sometimes I have a specific question and just need to find the answer. At other times its total immersion.

So the problem comes full circle: who has time to research, find and test drive these resources? I sure didn’t. I learned about everything listed here from very smart people who made the effort to check them out and then share their knowledge.

The inevitable disclaimer: I have no personal or financial stake in any of these resources. I’ve had good experiences with the ones mentioned and thought other people might find them useful.


  1. Comment #1. aimee whitcroft:

    Great stuff, Susan!

    I’m a huge fan of online skill-absorption.

    For intros to HTML and CSS, I recommend Codecademy. It’s free, and also does intros for other languages including Ruby, PHP, Javascript and Python. http://www.codecademy.com/

    Skillshare is great for design- and related subjects. Want to learn Illustrator? How to design amazing sneakers? The basics of data vizualisation? Some fun stuff here, and while not free, the prices are _very_ reasonable. I’ve done a couple and had a blast (with others paid for and awaiting some distant future where I have sufficient free time). http://www.skillshare.com/

    Those interested in an intro to data mining might enjoy the next round of Waikato University’s free Weka MOOC. I certainly enjoyed it 🙂 https://weka.waikato.ac.nz/explorer

    There are a bunch of (free) MOOCS on the Canvas Network, too. https://www.canvas.net/

    Finally, there’s always OpenCulture’s list of 1,100 free courses from top universities worldside – http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses – and iTunes University.

    The great thing is one really can draw out the useful bits without being too worried about grades, time and so forth. There’s very little guilt, and a great deal of joy to be had! And, of course, learning begets learning…

    Aside: the best way to learn coding, once you’ve got the basics down, is to try and build a website/app. There are lots of free and fun ways and platforms on which to do this 🙂

    Disclaimer: representing my personal views and experiences here, or course, and nobody’s given me anything to say nice stuff about their service 😛

  2. Comment #2. Rachel Prosser Rachel Prosser:

    If you want to learn or strengthen a second language then the Duolingo app is free, and gamifies (gamifys?) learning.

    English speakers can use it to learn 9 common European languages, and speakers of 22 langauges can use it to learn English.

    Unfortunately they haven’t developed courses in Maori, Samoan, or Tongan though. I’d love to be able to use it to improve my Maori language skills.

    I would love to be able to use Duolingo to learn Maori.

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