I’ve just completed my second course with Coursera on Behavioural Economics. When I chanced upon the course A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behaviour (by University of Duke’s Dan Ariely) on Coursera’s website, I wasn’t prepared on taking up an additional course but the title was intriguing. I was in the middle of a relationship tussle and found a relative’s behavior completely irrational. I had mistakenly thought that the course would explain his bizarre behavior I was witnessing and perhaps through it make me understand the situation better. By the middle of the course, I realized that I was the irrational one instead.
One of the criteria in choosing a free MOOC course for me is that it must come with a finishing certificate. This certificate is the motivational factor for me to take the study seriously, and an assurance that I shall complete it (sort of like a Ulysses Contract for myself. For more on that, take the course or read Dan’s books). The website touted the course as a 6-week course but it had since stretched to 8 weeks. During this time, I went through a 2-week painful hemorrhoids operation recovery period and a tooth implant infection which I thought would interfere with my study, especially since the syllabus was far more taxing than my first course Introduction with Philosophy with University of Edinburgh.
The weekly average of 6 videos were thankfully short (longest about 30 minutes), unlike my son’s experience with another MOOC course which has video lectures of over 1 hour. There were weekly quizzes based on the lectures as well as reading assignments.
The videos were fun to watch and I could finish the whole week’s lecture in one seating (or lying down when I was recuperating). Dan (as we students call him) is a charismatic lecturer who started every week with a joke and a survey for us to rate his jokes. What was difficult were the reading assignments, consisting of research papers on the social experiments that were done, with numerous statistical data and formulas. In the beginning, I gave up reading them but when I discovered that you need an 85% passing on the quiz which carries a 33.33% overall weightage, I cheated by just reading the introduction and conclusion.
In the middle of the course, many of us were caught by surprise by the peer assessments. I had expected it to come at the end of the course (as with my last course), so to be told the dateline was a week away gave many panic (33.33% weightage). I took two days to think about the topic – on a problematic behavior based on existing research and propose a solution. The peers who had accessed me were generous and I obtained a 8/9. In the forum, there were many complaints on unfair assessments which resulted in the loss of certificate, obviously something my peers valued as highly as I did.
At the end of the course we were to take two 2-hour closed book quizzes. An honor code ensured that we don’t cheat, and I am sure many of us didn’t, since one topic we had covered in the course was Dishonesty. Again the minimum score is 85% for a certificate. I had never studied so hard before, making notes and fighting over the PC with Aaron.
Well, I succeeded.
Behavourial Economics is an interesting topic and we are badgering Dan and Crew for an advance course. Here is a brief summary taken from the course website: Behavioral economics couples scientific research on the psychology of decision making with economic theory to better understand what motivates financial decisions. In A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior, you will learn about some of the many ways in which we behave in less than rational ways, and how we might overcome our shortcomings. You’ll also learn about cases where our irrationalities work in our favor, and how we can harness these human tendencies to make better decisions.
A highly recommended course to take for Coursera addicts.