They say learning is a lifelong process, and that you never stop being a student of the University of Life. Certainly as the years roll on, you pick up lots of little and large things that you will learn from. Sometimes the learning opportunities present themselves, and sometimes you have to seek them out.
It does not matter if you are highly educated or you were never fond of studying, everyone learns one way or the other. I hold a undergraduate degree plus very good GCSEs and A-Levels, but I still have that urge to better and distinguish myself academically and to improve my skills. As it is, we are in a highly competitive world. I graduated nearly a decade ago and in that time I have been busying myself with work. Now I have come to the stage in my life where I need to look at what is next in both my life generally and in my career.
In November 2014, I decided I needed to do something to help me improve my prospects. Although I have a relatively impressive CV, because I had been in the same job for a long while and had not studied in that time, my skills were getting a bit rusty and times had changed since my graduation in 2006. In August of that year, my sister completed her diploma in child psychology, with a little help from me. This got me thinking. Why don’t I do a short distance-learning course too? Something to add to my CV (resumé) and impress potential employers and help upskill myself at the same time. As long as it didn’t mire me in even more student debt (I already have a outstanding £15,000 loan with the Student Loan Company for my degree in journalism and media), then what was the harm in trying?
I was well aware that many boroughs in London, including my own, Newham, had a long tradition of managing courses for residents to add to their skillset in order to survive in this hectic metropolis. With this in mind, I had a look at the website of the borough where I live, Newham Council, and discovered they were offering free courses in association with a company called Universal Class. Based in Tampa, Florida, U.S.A, Universal Class Inc. is an internationally-oriented provider of educational services that offer courses in everything pretty much really, from basic accounting and life coaching, to healthcare and computing. I even spotted a course on blogging. Their slogan is “Learn Anything. Learn Anytime. Learn Anywhere”, and they claim to have 600,000+ students learning via more than 500 courses, and have delivered five million courses so far. I was very fortunate that I still had my old Newham Libraries Card in my wallet, so was able to use the card number to log into the Universal Class portal direct from the Newham Council site and create my login details. I didn’t have to pay a penny for the course either.
Out of those 500 courses, I decided to do the one on Microsoft Excel 2013. Why did I choose that?, you may ask. Well in my current job, I spend a lot of time with Excel. It’s the previous version from 2010, but I depend on it a lot to process client data in my company’s database, and I also daily add information from the database and external materials to Excel spreadsheets, so knowing your way around those little cells is essential for this job. I thought that by getting myself certified as a competent user of the latest incarnation of this office work essential, it would not only prepare me for when my office decides to upgrade their Microsoft package, but also could go on my CV as an extra achievement to maximise my employability.
I will not bore you to death with the intricate details of the course or how everything works but here is a brief explanation.
In the Excel 2013 course, you have twenty lessons to complete, starting from really basic stuff to more complicated matters involving tables, graphics and formulae. Each lesson has an optional ‘assignment’, an activity that helps you put into practice what you’ve learned in that lesson. There is also a multiple choice exam of ten questions. Once you have done all the lessons, there is a final exam which has 45 questions, again multiple choice and it will test you on the contents of the entire course. Each lesson also comes with handy links and YouTube videos to expand your knowledge in a given area. You are also assigned an instructor (tutor) who can give feedback and emails you in your UC inbox your scores for each end-of-lesson exam. There is no time limit to completing the course, so you can work at your own pace. Walk in the park!!
The lessons covered the following:
1. Introduction to MS Excel 2013 and the course.
2. Navigating Excel 2013.
3. Worksheets and workbooks.
4. Entering information into MS Excel 2013.
5. Introduction to working with cells, rows and columns.
6. Formatting data and cells.
7. Formatting rows and columns.
8. Editing cells, rows, columns and worksheets.
9. Introduction to formulas and calculations.
10. Working with formulas and functions.
11. Maintaining worksheets.
12. The What-If Analysis.
13. Adding images and graphics.
14. Charts and diagrams.
15. Creating data lists.
16. Managing data.
17. Pivot tables and charts.
18. Printing worksheets and workbooks.
20. Protecting, saving and sharing workbooks.
I would work on the course over the weekends, often straight after I had written an article here on the blog. One day would be set aside to copy the notes from the lesson onto a Word document and save for my reference, as well as making additional notes from the provided links. I also used that day to do the assignment for some extra brownie points. The other day would be dedicated to revising and then doing the lesson exam. Overall it was a very comprehensive course. The exams were a little tough at times but that is what you would expect from an exam. It helped though that I was already well-versed with Excel’s earlier versions, so my existing knowledge of spreadsheet software meant some of the lessons were a breeze. I even began using some of the skills I learned from the course in my day job. I was doing well, according to my tutor, who was posting back scores ranging from 80 to 100 per cent. I had this course firmly in the bag.
Finally in April 2014, after five months of weekend studying, I was finally ready to do my finals. I decided to put it off until this Bank Holiday weekend, as I would have two days off work plus the normal weekend. I spent the whole weekend reading through the course notes, memorising everything and then tackled the exam at around 5 pm yesterday evening.
As soon as I completed the exam, I submitted it, expecting to have to wait a day for it to be marked by my tutor, Sean. Surprisingly I clicked on an arrow and immediately was informed that I had passed the course.
I passed it with flying colours.
I achieved a score of 92%.
I was very impressed!!!.
*cue train of smiley face emojis*
🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
This was a very special achievement for me, and I feel ‘well proud’ as we East Londoners say.
I got a downloadable PDF certificate (although they put my name as ‘MR SHAH’ instead of my full name, which I’m trying to get corrected). I’ve also ordered a paper certificate from them. It cost me £9 but at least I can put the hard-copy version into my National Record of Achievement folder along with my school and college certificates and my university degree. I should get that in from America within two weeks.
I’m really happy. Although the course may not be as thorough as an average course at a further education college, it is very good value considering I am not even paying for it (apart from the small £5.99 monthly fee for using the Excel 2013 software on your PC, but you can cancel the subscription after you finish the course). I plan to return to the Universal Classrooms again this June or July as my next target is a course in administration. I have also found out from one of my LinkedIn groups that the City University of New York journalism school is offering some free courses in skills for news writing. Might give that a try too. If you’re interested, you can see them at this link .
It just goes to show that if you are smart enough to keep your eyes open, dig around the web a bit and research your opportunities, you can make a learning dream come true for you.
Newham Council – http://www.newham.gov.uk/
Universal Class – universalclass.com/
My Universal Class student’s page – http://my.universalclass.com/jay1984
“Universal Class: Online Courses and Continuing Education” – Universal Class https://www.universalclass.com/index.htm
Universal Class Inc. https://library.universalclass.com/index.htm?frmurl=www
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