Pen{g}sieve Vol 8: My most transformative online courses

I used to think that training is boring, bureaucratic, and a waste of time. Then everything changed after I discovered niche cohort-based online courses last year. No, I am not talking about Coursera courses like Machine Learning 101. I am talking about courses that teach fundamental skills that we have learned since as young adults, used every day, but stopped improving for a long time.

If there are ever shortcuts to self-improvements, boosting fundamental skills through good training programs is one of them. This post will recommend a few such courses that have transformed me in the past twelve months.

Four transformative online courses

Life in VIEW

This course teaches people how to have authentic conversations through the VIEW mindset (VIEW stands Vulnerability, Impartiality, Empathy, and Wonder). While I am still taking the course, VIEW has become my new all-time favorite. Simply put, the content is profound. It changes our mental model of how to connect with others as well as ourselves. You can check out the main concept in a 5-series podcast called Life in VIEW and judge for yourself.

As for me, I had just finished the first session of VIEW last weekend with my conversation partner. The practices were intense and even uncomfortable at times. Then I had a conversation with my sister and practiced what I just learned, i.e., only asking questions, not solving problems. The conversation was so energy-consuming that I was exhausted from focusing all my attention on her and holding back my natural tendency to “fixing” problems. This experience reminded me of a story shared by a VIEW alumnus who, after his first VIEW practice, remarked that he had never had an impartial conversation in his life before. The story deeply touched me at the time. But last weekend, after my conversation with my sister, I realized that I was that person too.

VIEW opened my eyes to a completely new way of having conversations and connecting with people — being authentic, non-judgemental, and full of wonder. I think anyone can benefit from learning VIEW.

Building A Second Brain (BASB)

This is a course on knowledge management offered by Tiago Forte. The name — building a second brain — is not a euphemism of digital note-taking but captures the course's essence. Our brain is a mighty processor but with an extremely unreliable memory and storage. Our brain is good at creating thoughts but not at storing them. Notes collected in small packets over time indeed serve as our second brain. And who does not want a second brain?

Since I took BASB last September, note-taking has become a solid part of my system. It not only helped me start Pen{g}sieve, but it also became my ”secret weapon” on the day job. Bit by bit, my note-taking system helped me understand codebases, evolve random thoughts into ideas, and analyze complex problems over time. I owe BASB a great deal for my easy transition to the new job.

Cohort 12 of BASB is open for enrollment now (start in May). I will surely return (for free as alumni) to meet new course mates and get a renewal out of a second BASB experience.

Annual Review Workshop

This is a two-day workshop at the beginning of each year to guide participants to reflect on the past year and define goals for the new year. This is my first annual review workshop but my second course with Tiago.

The annual review process allowed me to fully integrate my 2020 experiences and sharpened my 2021 goals (they are defined following the SMART principles). Even if I have the annual review template, I think doing it with guidance and like-minded people adds a lot more rigor to this process.

You can check out my personal annual review post to get a taste of the outcome. The annual review workshop will become part of my annual ritual.

Art of Accomplishment (AoA)

This is another course by Joe Hudson, the creator of Life In VIEW. It is a group executive coaching program on how to achieve success with self-expression. AoA is for high achievers to break through what lead them to where they are today to move to the next level.

The main concept of AoA is available as a 4-series podcast. I have binged all the episodes over one weekend and deeply resonated with the concept of treating accomplishment as an art form (ie, your true self should shine through what you do like any artist strives for). Though I have not yet taken the course (finishing VIEW first), I feel compelled to spread this valuable content to as many people as I can reach.

How do changes happen?

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me this question — “I’ve read a lot of books and taken many courses; how do I turn learnings into real-life changes?”

Indeed, knowledge does not necessarily lead to transformation. For instance, I took a few other courses of the same nature last year. While I thoroughly enjoyed those courses and even incorporated some of the learning, I did not consider them transformative. So what set this group of courses apart from the others?

I now believe that great courses produce transformative effects by creating direct and often communal experiences to help people leap to action and sustain the change. For instance, all three courses recommended above are either cohort-based or require an accountability partner. They all offer some combinations of breakout rooms, Live Q&A, monthly check-ins, social media circles, free retakes, or active alumni programs. The secrete sauce is to make people feel seen and connected. It is tough to change as an island — human connection, support groups, public accountability are often what tip us out of inaction and into transformation.

I have a perfect example to illustrate the difference between knowing, experiencing, and transforming through my recent VIEW experience.

Before taking the course, I deeply enjoyed the podcast. I had epiphanies about VIEW and shared them with my friends. This is the knowing phase.

During the first session, I practiced with a conversation partner and experienced all the tension and discomfort of learning this new way of engaging in conversations. And I observed a real VIEW conversation by the master and awed by how powerful VIEW can be. This is the experiencing phase.

Throughout this week, I practiced VIEW in daily conversations and noticed when wonder or partiality showed up in my conversations. Though this is just the beginning of a new practice, I am confident that, over time, VIEW will become part of my system, just like any other habit of mine. And this is how a great course transforms one’s life.