FutureLearn: The Discovery of the Higgs Boson – free online course

A couple of days ago I was reminded of something that had stumbled upon and signed up for months ago: A free course from FutureLearn in partnership with the University of Edinburgh. So far, it is wonderful. The physics and mathematics describing them are explained in fairly plain language easily followed by someone possessing highschool algebra skills (you don’t need calculus!). I think it’s great that the Open University is still keeping up with technology to proliferate free education.

FutureLearn are offering quite a few different courses provided through partnerships with a number of (mostly British, I think) universities. Everything from anatomy to particle physics, writing English  for university study, web science and a course on drug and alcohol addiction, and more. All are free and most look like they’ve either just started or will start soon. The one I’m looking at suggests a commitment of 2 hours a week.

Pretty neat stuff. I love the idea of seeding interest in higher education and study, and fuelling it in those (like me) who are interested but aren’t in school at the moment. It’s nice to keep my hand in, as it were, with the higher-level thinking and maths skills. The only sad thing for me is that I watch the videos, and while I did have to pause it a couple of times for a moment to run through the algebraic manipulations in my head – and yes I’m channelling my highschool algebra teaching wife’s venting here – I seriously doubt her students could follow the video I just watched. Sadder still is that most of them, even if interested, wouldn’t try (and there are lots of notes and pointers to extra resources, plus TAs following the comments/discussion).

I’ve already learnt something new, though! Apparently T is the symbol for kinetic energy. I always remember using E-little- or K-little-E. The main thing though (and this was slightly mind-blowing for me) was that momentum is the derivative of the kinetic energy – I don’t remember knowing that, and it would have been so useful, in highschool and college!

More than anything I’d like to encourage you to have a look at something and give it a try. You’re never too old to refresh some memory and exercise some brain cells, or discover a new interest, maybe a new passion.

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