Learn Something New

Find an Interesting Subject

One of the things I wanted to do before I retired, was to do some courses on subjects I was interested in. All my life, since I was in kindergarten, someone else chose what I needed to learn. Even when I did my undergraduate degree, I chose the course but what I did was set out in the outline when I signed on and I followed the schedule all the way through the course. But in retirement, I get to choose my own courses and can do whatever I like!

Lots of Free Courses

So it was surprising to me to discover there are a whole lot of courses up to university level which you can do online for nothing! Whatever your heart desire can usually be found online. There are courses on Psychology, English language, History, Health and Medicine, Music and design and lots of other subjects.  Most of these courses are free.

My uni course major was computing so I thought I’d do a course on writing software for the iPad and iPhone. The newspapers and TV make it sound as if kids in school can write this sort of code so I figures that it can’t be too hard. After all, they talk about 12 year old kids selling apps so why can’t a retired bloke do it? And since the development software (XCode) was available free from Apple it seemed like the way to go.

Find a Course.

Of course if you have no interest in computer software, you can find many courses that are free on Edx.org. To find my course on how to write computer software, I used iTunesU which is now only available on the iPad. You can download iTunesU from the Apple store. Whatever your interest, there are hundreds of options and lots of courses at various levels available. Many courses are from Universities in America but there are many other courses from Australian sources too.

After following the links, I found a course called “Developing iOS 11 Apps with Swift” (that means writing software for the iPhone/iPad.)  It was from Stanford Uni so it had credibility and it was free. There are actually several courses there covering various versions of the operating system, but choosing the latest one is always best – especially in software development.


The lectures were easily downloadable and consisted of a video of the lecturer Paul Hegarty delivering the lecture and some online notes and slides to help you follow what is going on. The prerequisite for the course was another course on basic computing but I figured out I was well passed basic computing and so I went straight to lecture 1. (Dumb idea number 1).

Starting out

From the beginning it was interesting and not at all what I expected. The first lecture was about a particular language structure called “MVC” which is apparently used in modern styles of software development. MVC in this context means Model, View, Controller.  I’d never heard of MVC before but I’m up for most things and it all seemed to make sense that part of what you did was to work out how it was to work (the Model), to sort out the way it looked (View) and figure out the rules to control it (C).  There was a reading assignment after lecture 1 but I found it terribly boring so like what I did in my previous degree, I skim read the pages. I don’t recommend this approach as you really need this foundation level information later in the course! (Dumb idea 2).

Lecture 2

Lecture 2 follows on from lecture one and consisted of a demonstration of what lecture one was about using the Swift language tools. At the end of lecture 2 you are given a project to write a calculator app. As I went through the lecture I was able to mimic the lecturer and what he had on his computer screen.  This is the advantage of online learning. You can stop, have a cup of tea, rewind, pause and then continue as you see fit.

The Assignment.

I tried writing the calculator code and succeeded to a point. It did calculate results. It did have the decimal point in the right place but I never got the clear button to work the way it should. The calculator code was never going  to break any ground and make me a million dollars anyway because it used Reverse Polish Notation to enter numbers and you can buy a real calculator program where the clear button does work and the numbers are entered in the usually way for $1!

Lecture 3 was helpful in getting the calculator code cleaned up and working well and answered some of the questions I had with the code I was writing.  And then I discovered the problem with online courses – you can’t ask questions! But I have to say in hindsight, I’m thankful I never asked the questions I had, because judging by the questions other students asked, I would have looked foolish. Those students were really turned on and asked questions I could barely understand!

The Difficulties.

I have to say I enjoyed the course up to this point but from Lecture 3 on, it got quite difficult.  Some of that was the language used.  They have “mutable” and “immutable” arrays these days instead of constants and variable I was used to. So I was forever stopping the lecture to work out which one you can change, which one you can’t change and how that fitted into the code he was talking about. Surprise surprise I have up. It seems the world of computing has changed since I did my previous degree 30 years ago. My Cobol skills don’t count anymore. In fact I think I need to start again with the basic computer course and proceed slowly and read the set material with a bit more intent. So I have put off completing the course till I get around to it again. In the meanwhile, I found a few other courses on topics as diverse as chemistry, the Bible in Christianity and Judaism, writing material for the internet and public speaking. I completed all of these courses at least and they were all free. So I managed to find lots things that took my interest and helped me learn something new.

So why not give it a go?  Find a courses on Edx or iTunesU, and go for it.  You might just learn something!

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