People keep asking me how I manage to keep organised, and how this whole ‘self-studying’ business works.  My friend Marina requested a page on my blog, so here you have it!

Self-learning, distance learning

Some courses I’ve done over the past ten years have been in-person: mainly these were physical skills courses, eg when I qualified as a sailing instructor.  However, it’s possible to do quite a lot of the more academic courses by distance while travelling.  I did my degree through the University of London’s International Programmes, and the whole shebang was so good that it’s also how I’m doing my graduate diploma.  It’s cheap and flexible, and you can do exams in basically any country.  The way it works is that at the start of the year, they send you study guides and reading lists.  You then teach yourself the content, and sit a 100% exam for each subject at the end of the academic year.  Qualifications, including degrees, are equivalent to those gained by students in-house.

I also arranged to do a couple of diplomas in Australia via distance learning.  I completed my advanced diploma in one year rather than 4 (they’re two years full-time), attending an average of one day a week and then doing a lot of it in my own time (Northern Beaches TAFE).  My diploma in project management I again by distance: I only attended the actual facility (CIT) to enrol and to take tests, which they can also arrange online.  I did my final exam via skype.

There are also now a number of free courses available online, with more appearing every day.  I recently did a certificate course through the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), which was okay as a CV bolsterer but nothing new if you’ve a background in political science.  There’s Coursera for free university-level courses, though I’ve recently been doing a course through edX instead.  EdX is a new initiative from Harvard and MIT, with Berkeley and many more already having had joined, and it’s great: I’m learning a lot, and the lecturer is fantastic.  You do get a certificate for passing courses, which some universities are accepting for credit toward in-house degrees.

As far as text-books go, I prefer to use Book Depository thanks to the free shipping: Amazon’s prohibitively expensive in this regard unless you live in the States etc.  I do of course prefer to purchase ebooks, because they’re less bother to carry around the world (under-statement!)

Useful software and websites for running your life

I always have a lot of projects on the go, and part of being able to manage time effectively is using products that match your needs.  Below is what I use on my laptop (PC) – it’s all free unless otherwise specified.

  • To-do software: to do desklist
  • Keeping notes, remembering things, including synching across devices: evernote
  • Browser: chrome all the way, with the ad block extension
  • PDFs, including free OCR and high-lighting: pdf xchange.  It’s much faster and an all-round better product than adobe reader/acrobat, with more capabilities.  I actually paid the small fee for the upgrade, and it’s more than worth it.
  • Mind-mapping: spiderscribe (website)
  • FTP software (not relevant to a lot of people): WinSCP
  • Managing my kindle: Calibre (to convert files and transfer books) plus klippings (for organising notes I’ve taken)
  • Sound recording, for those rare occasions I do vocal notes: audacity
  • I’ve also just started using ‘ywriter‘ to organise my book—I was struggling to keep little details straight.  It seems pretty good thus far.
  • Backing up files: drop-box for my super-important things, plus obviously I have a hard-drive I keep separate from my laptop in case one or the other is stolen.
  • Creating photo panoramas: dermander (website) or autostitch (freeware version)
  • Watching/playing media: VLC

That’s it for now, though if there’s anything else you’re curious about, please feel free to leave a comment.  You may also want to see my post about learning Russian: a lot of the things on there apply to learning other languages, too.

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