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Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) For Retirees Overseas

Living And Learning Overseas

Henry Ford said that “anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

I think moving abroad amounts to one of life’s great learning experiences. Live in a different culture for a while, you’ll start to think like the locals do, at least a little bit. Before a trip to Turkey years ago, I asked an expert on Turkey how I could prepare. “Take your head off,” he said, “and screw it back on the other way around.”

Besides learning by moving, we learn on the job, by raising children, by reading and listening to others, and so on. But in recent years we’ve also been able to take classes online, free, at the world’s best universities. I’m talking about MOOCs, or massive open online courses.

If you’re interested in learning (and in staying young, according to Henry Ford), I encourage you to look at MOOCs. You can take a free course in just about anything you can think of, from computer programming to cosmology, calculus, or history. If you have Internet, you can take these courses from wherever you happen to be living.

Two online sites provide most of the MOOCS: Coursera and edX. You can get a complete rundown on the MOOCverse here. Coursera, for examples, offers free courses from Stanford, University of Virginia, Yale, University of Tokyo, and many more.

I got started taking courses when a friend recommended one. He wanted me to accompany him in a Robert Shiller course at Yale on markets and money. I knew Shiller and was curious at what he had to say on the subject. I enjoyed the online course along with the email discussions with my friend.I was hooked.

I recently completed two more courses. The first, called “A Brief History of Humankind,” brings us from about 65,000 years ago to present day.

We started with 65,000 years because that’s when Homo sapiens—you and me—developed complex language. At that point, biology became history. We continued through the agricultural revolution, then the industrial and scientific revolutions of the present day.

Professor Yuval Noah Harari, from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, taught the MOOC. Harari tells us, for example, that the agricultural revolution was history’s biggest fraud.

We learned in grade school that hunter-gatherers succumbed to food shortages, were constantly on the move, buried their dead where they fell, were forced into cannibalism, and otherwise lived crummy lives. They were desperate to settle in one place and enjoy more reliable good supplies.

Nothing could be further from the truth, Harari argues. Hunter-gatherers had it pretty good. They enjoyed a diet rich in fruit and nuts, meat, edible plants, and fish. They were stronger than we are, smarter than we are. They worked about half the time we do today and probably enjoyed lives relatively free of violence.

These and other zingers from Harari worked on me like a page-turning suspense novel. I anxiously awaited each new lecture. I took all the exams to double-check my understanding of the material.

Dr. Paul Bloom from Yale taught the second course, “Moralities of Everyday Life.” Professor Bloom researches cognitive development, especially with babies. His research confirms that babies enter our world with a partial moral compass. They have a notion of fairness, of good and evil. They prefer those who speak Mom’s language and reject even those who speak Mom’s language with foreign accents.

Think of our birth morality as a first draft of a book. As we proceed through life, we pick up new views along the way, turning our rough draft into a final product during our formative years.

I’ve long been perplexed by the question of where morality comes from.
Specifically, without religion, would mankind have any morality at all?
We now know the answer, at least in part. We’re born with a moral sense and acquire more as we go along.

Perhaps the hardest issue in morality: How to explain altruism toward strangers in faraway lands. One writer, Peter Singer, says we should give away our assets beyond what we need for our basic needs. Singer points out that if we see a girl drowning in a lake, with no one else around, most of us would jump in and help her. He then argues by analogy that girls in poor countries drown (figuratively) every day. So why don’t we help them? We should, Singer says, and he tells how to do it. You can read Singer’s article here.

So I took these three courses. You can choose from hundreds of others. I took my courses with friends around the world and suggest you do the same. You can exchange emails about what you find exciting, novel, or perplexing.

Give it a try. It’s free.

Paul Terhorst

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