I’ve mentioned FutureLearn before, as an excellent resource for no-stress, free-time further education. I’ve had the chance to do some more courses over the past few months, and thought I’d share my experience.
The first course I’ve done at FutureLearn was about a complete virtual model of ancient Rome (see here). It was an amazing tool to learn and absorb the fabric of that city, so I tried a few more courses. I’ve now completed several courses in their history department, all excellent and which I’d heartily recommend to anyone interested in ancient history!
Focusing on this well known monument, from the precursor days of the conquest of Roman Britain, to the legacy it left behind after the province was abandoned and up to the modern age.
There’s everything from archaeology, to original sources, to reconstructions. You will learn a lot about Roman Britain, naturally, but also about life on the empire’s frontiers in general.
Note: I highly recommend you also do the quick (2-week) Archaeology: From Dig to Lad course. It complements the knowledge in Hadrian’s Course quite nicely.
Health and Wellbeing in the Ancient World
Another rich source of information, concerning what we know about how the ancient perceived and managed health issues. It covers a lot of ground and periods, from Hippocrates to Galen, though the course is organised by subject rather than period (which fits well). This is an absolute must for someone trying to get into the mind-set of people from antiquity.
The Fall of the Roman Republic
This course covers the last century of the Roman Republic, from the Gracchi Brothers to Augustus. The course itself is fairly quick, but is rich in references and links to extra source materials. It gives a good grounding in the reasons for the fall of the republic and the rise of the empire, though if you’re already familiar with the drives and events of the period it’s not revealing anything dramatic.
I’ve done the screenwriting course before, which was a 2-week quick intro to the subject. I found it a bit light (half was advertising the screenwriting program from the university running the course), but still a reasonable intro for someone with no background in plays and screenwriting whatsoever (like me).
I’ve now tried courses on both reading and writing fiction (in addition the previously mention Screenwriting course).
“How to Read a Novel” was fairly disappointing. I hopes to glean some new aspects of critical reading, but I found the course dry (yes, Joyce’s Ulysses is a classic – but it’s also a torture device), and overly academic.
“Start Writing Fiction” is very much that — about how to start. It is geared heavily to those who want to write but not quite sure how. (My hint: just do it). While I’m sure there are tips that even experienced authors might benefit from, the main focus is building good characters and an “author notebook”. The focus is, naturally, on literary/general fiction. On the plus side, they do cover topics from ideation, to drafting, to editing, and of course about building characters and conflict. It’s a supportive course, with plenty of exercises to get you writing if you need the kick.
While the ancient history and archaeology courses were excellent (and I’ll certainly keep taking more), the creative arts courses I tried were not for me. I might check occasionally for new material, but I think for me this is time better spent elsewhere. (I’d still recommend you take a look, as your mileage may vary).
There has been a few occasions where I didn’t get to complete a course (life got in the way), but as they are offered repeatedly one can always join a later date. I do have courses on my wish-list on areas that interest me (from linguistics to psychology), so I get alerted when they area offered and can try if I have the time.
In general, whatever your reasons for pursuing further knowledge, FutureLearn presents the information in an easy-to-digest format. Your level of involvement is up to you — whether you want to chase down the links to extra info and do further exercises or not — but they do (mostly) give a good cover of the study area.