OCL Psychology Student Diary: Back to School

Everybody, no matter their age or level of education, feels out of the loop sometimes. For myself, who has no grasp of psychology, being married to a psychology major can be pretty rough; my husband's always talking about concepts I don't know. But thanks to developments in open education, help is on the way. Perhaps taking a free, online course in psychology through the Open Course Library get me in the loop a little better? Class is in session.

By Laura Allan


When I got out of college two years ago, I never for a minute thought that I was done learning. I did, however, think it was an end to my classes. Well, I'm seeing now that my assumption was wrong. My name is Laura, and over the next few weeks I'll be taking a college course online through the Open Course Library.

Honey, I Have No Idea What You're Talking About

After college I got married to a wonderful man who I was compatible with in nearly every way. The 'nearly' has to do with our fields of study. I was an English major, and he studied psychology. It wouldn't have been such a big deal except that my husband actually found a job in his field (working with the developmentally disabled) after college.

'So, how was your client today?' I'll ask over dinner.

'Interesting,' he'll say, lighting up. 'He really is very smart, but he can't understand written language. Makes me wonder if he ever got out of the preoperational stage of development in some part of his mind.'

I'll generally not contribute much to the conversation over the next few minutes, mostly because I have little to no idea what my husband's referring to. Well, now I have an opportunity to expand my knowledge by taking a psychology course again, and what better class than one about human development? The class is called Lifespan Psychology and talks about different stages of life. It's just what I need.

Week 1: What Would Psychologists Say About My Hubris?

After clicking through the site and finding the beginning of the lessons, I gave a quick glance over everything I was going to have to read. It was all very well organized and looked like the syllabus to a legitimate college class. At the very top, I noticed a study guide link. Need a study guide? Who, me? Psh, this is an online class, these are supposed to be easy. I didn't even look at it or read it. Big mistake, as I was soon to find out.

I've never really had to read for hours and hours at a time online before, which I guess is strange because I'm such an Internet junkie. But I found my eyes and head beginning to hurt after just a few hours. Wow, that text seemed small. It helped to stare out the window for a few minutes just to clear my head. Just when I was getting truly fed up, the lesson suddenly presented me with videos to watch. Hooray! A reprieve from all that text! Most of the first few lessons of the course are broken up by short videos, which is a blessing. It lets the eyes and mind rest for a little while, and the videos are informative, interesting and targeted at adults.

The course material itself was like something out of a textbook. It was factual, straightforward and didn't expect me to have any prior knowledge, which was nice. I recognized a few words here and there as things my husband had said, but nothing from the one relevant class I took in college. The lessons lead me from subject to unknown subject over the course of three days, everywhere from basic theories of Freud and Piaget to different stages of adulthood. I felt confident about what I was learning, even just skimming things. I was way too confident, in fact, for the few short days I'd been reading. But it's just an online class, I kept telling myself, nothing difficult.

After the three days, I decided to take the unit one practice test. I wanted to see how I was coming along. I didn't use notes and I didn't study beforehand. Basically, I thought I could just wing it. And my result? Sixty five percent.

That low? That's a D! I'd felt so good about this, and it's just an online class after all. But then I suddenly remembered how hard psychology had been for me in college. This online course was no different. It certainly wasn't something I could skim through and expect to pass. I had to treat this like a very real college course complete with notes, studying and retaking that practice test when I was actually ready. I went back a page and clicked on lesson one again to start over, this time with a pen for notes and a much more focused mind.

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