Sometimes you need to call a pro…

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post! With the start of  the new school year and all, it’s been a little hectic to say the least.

So the purpose of this post is to point out something I’m a little ashamed to admit – sometimes you need to call a pro rather than try to learn how to do it yourself.

It all began on a night like any other. After bathtime, I was taking care of some chores and noticed that some water had gathered around the base of my hot water heater in the utility room.


I have no idea how long the water had been coming out as I’m not in the basement of the house every day, but I did know that water is NOT supposed to leaking out the bottom (yeah, I’m smart like that). So a quick inspection to try and figure our where the water was coming from proved inconclusive, so it was off to my best friend Google to start doing some research and see what could be done about this little plumbing situation I found myself in.

A few searched later and I was deep in the YouTube rabbit-hole of DIY’ers showing how it’s done. From what I could tell I had a bad pressure relief valve – which as the name implies is there to release excess pressure that builds up as a result of heating water. It looks like there are two things that can happen to this little do-hickey, it can become unseated or it can break. From what I could tell mine was busted. No big deal right? According to all the DIY sites, this was a low skill challenge (perfect for me!) and the part only cost $20 as opposed to having to pay a plumber $150 house call fee plus the part. OK, I’ve taught myself remotely a lot more complex skills than just changing a valve on a hot water heater – how hard could it be? The answer might surprise you – it turns out that there are a few tools that make the job easier and faster and of course add to the overall cost of a DIY job (not to mention the time spent).

Sometimes I am in such a rush to just do a job myself and pick up some new skills that I fail to really assess the true costs – even if an online course is free there are other costs associated such as your time, tools or materials that you would have to buy to get a job done, or the hardest one to admit is that some things (like hot water heaters) simply can’t have a half-assed job done on them.

I’m not going to admit how much time I spent trying to get this valve replaced (getting it out took me all of 2 minutes, getting it in? No comment) but suffice to say that it was several days before I finally threw in the towel and called Langley Plumber and had a professional take care of the work. It literally took them 10 minutes of work – with me peering over their shoulder to see just what the heck I had been doing wrong the whole time. I honestly still can’t figure it out . Sam (the plumber) took his time to kindly explain to me what needed to be done but it seems that fixing hot water tanks is just not my thing. Read More

The End of Traditional Learning?

Full Disclosure, I have not yet read The End of College: Creating the future of Learning and the University of Everywhere .I just picked it up and have made it a last minute addition to this summer’s reading list – full review to follow. I want to bring it to your attention as it’s the latest in a long line of books heralding the end of education as we know it.  Education is one of the last bastions of traditions – I mean, where else can you find things being done the same way they were 100 years ago. Traditional schools today still organize the school year according to when the crops come in – need to have those kiddies home to help with the harvest.

In an era of disruption, why has it taken so long for our education system to follow suit? Is it because education is typically run by the government? Why haven’t new models come in and made the old one obsolete? It’s a tough question to answer but I think the winds are starting to turn – we are in a time of rapid innovation and new ways of learning online are springing up everywhere. I think if somebody could figure out how to combine the learning flexibility of online programs with the valuable social interactions that take place in the schoolyard then we will have our new model.

Many online learning programs have online communities attached to them – whether a message board or Facebook group but there really is no replacement for the social lessons learned day in day out by interacting with your peers. I hate to say it – but most home-schooled kids I know are a little weird. Please don’t judge me – I’m just being honest here.

I’ll update this post once I’ve had a chance to read the book – and if anybody has any data on homeschooled kids long term happiness I’d love to have a look at it. I mean it’s always possible that I’m the weird one after all!

Alternatives to formal courses

So you have a new skill you want to pick up but don’t need to go very deep – or the skill is very basic. Don’t underestimate the power of the internet to help you here. I recently bought a lawnmower and couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to put the dang thing together – enter YouTube. A quick search revealed a kindly older gentleman putting together the exact same make and model and in no time I had it put together and up and running. My only mistake was not turning to the web faster.

There are a plethora of quick tutorials out there for virtually anything you need to figure out – in fact, I often will look to free videos posted to YouTube before checking the major online learning platforms like Lynda, Coursera, Khan Academy or the dozens of other sites out there just to see if I’m really interested in learning more. Just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. Many gurus out there in a vast number of fields will give away much of their content for free – they have found that this is the best way to attract people willing to pay a premium for their “full packages” – this gives you the opportunity to check out the content that will be covered and allow you to get a feel for the teaching style and let you see if the material is something you would want to invest in.

Given the fact that I live in an older house and can’t afford to pay somebody to come out and fix every little thing that goes wrong I find myself turning to the internet all the time (seriously, it feels like my house is falling down around me at times). I didn’t grow up with a Dad that was teaching me how to fix things, so I have to figure things out for myself. Fortunately for me there are kindly old gentlemen filming themselves putting together lawnmowers.


What I look for in an online course

Ok, so I thought I would start by sharing what I look for when I’m thinking about signing up for a new course. I don’t know about you but I was never one for traditional learning models that tell you how to do something without showing the practical and the tactical sides of things. I recently started a new job with a large company. The first 30 days of employment were taking up with a detailed learning plan – “great” I thought. Except the learning was all delivered via video recordings – no opportunity to ask questions and all very theoretical – fast forward seven months and I literally can’t remember 90% of what I sat through.

Here are the 5 things I look for in an online course:

Learn by doing

Does the course give you an opportunity to put into practice what you are learning in real time. Are there exercises interspersed throughout the learning modules that will give you a chance to put into practice what you have just seen/watched/heard/read. This type of learning solidifies the lesson you have just ingested and gives your brain a path to remember – it will also highlight areas that you need to go over again to ensure you’re building a solid foundation. You will remember things that you have actually done and it allows for critical thinking to develop – a key to learning.

A key element of this kind of learning for me is that it keeps me engaged and paying attention – plus I get the positive feedback loop of the satisfaction of learning practical new skills. In my experience putting new skills into practice IMMEDIATELY is the best way of ensuring that the learning actually sticks.

Connect the outcome to a project or work

Courses that have a concrete deliverable like “by the end of this course you will have built a vegetable garden” will catch my attention over something like “learn all about planting a garden”. Having a project to work on as you learn is key in digesting and then putting into action all you have learned. I am a big fan of step-by-step training. Obviously this isn’t appropriate for learning about some esoteric skills but nonetheless in general look for something that has a framework sin place so that when you finish your course you are left with something that you have “built”

A lot of courses that are designed to deliver skills needed in the workplace will have this kind of structure – the really good ones will also connect you to a larger community of peers that you can leverage for support and even job opportunities

Over the shoulder learning

This is my big one – does the course actually show in a meaningful way what you are trying to learn. My favorite type of training like this is the over the shoulder view – where if somebody is teaching something they show you how they are doing every step that is being taught. I have learned everything from yoga to web design by taking courses like this. The beauty of online learning is that you can learn from some of the very best in your desired field from the comfort of your own home and at a fraction of the cost that an in-person lesson would cost.


I’ve touched on this briefly but peer-to-peer learning is very powerful. One of the things that you give up (usually) when you’re taking an online course is the ability to ask the person next to you about something you’re learning. many classes now offer a community for people taking the course at the same time. Nobody knows what you’re going through on a course better than somebody else taking the same course. It’s also fun.

Lifetime access

I forget stuff. A lot. Having lifetime access to a course is a must for me – particularly if the skill is highly detailed or technical. I love being able to go back to a specific module in a course for a refresher if I’m in need.


So that’s it in a nutshell. The quality of online courses continues to get better and better but for now the variation in quality can still be extreme. These tips should help to weed out some of the ones to take a pass on.

Welcome to my site!

So – why would somebody start up a blog about their adventures in online learning? Good question – I’m not sure I have a great answer but basically the way I’m looking at this project is like an online journal. No – not a dear diary type of thing, just a place to document what I’m up to and what I’m learning about online at any given time.

Things I’ve learned about in the past through online courses or software  include; fitness, nutrition, sales & marketing, web design (though you wouldn’t know it by looking at this site), personal development, and time management to name just a few. The majority of courses of done sitting in front of my computer are focused around technical skills. Online courses are exploding at the moment – chances are if you’re looking to learn something somebody has a course for sale. We’ll be checking some out and I’ll try to give some tips about what I look for in a course before signing up (hint: it ain’t reviews). You can’t always judge a book by its cover so the fanciest, most professionally produced course might not be the best for your needs. I have found it best wherever possible to check out a free preview and base my decision off of that (and whether or not they have a refund mechanism in place if I find the course is not what I am looking for).

Over the coming weeks and months, I will be taking a look at some courses that will allow me to fill some gaps in my current state of “knowledge” – the most glaring of these lately has been my ability , or lack thereof, to swing a hammer. I think I may be learning disabled within the manly arts of home repair. Seriously I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. I guess I’ve never really had anybody teach me how to do various repairs but I have friends that could say the same yet they are pretty handy. I guess there are just some things that you have a knack for or not – cutting straight lines, fixing something broken, or any kind of beautification project are simply not my bag – yet. I believe that given enough effort and applying yourself the right way (working smart) can result in the development of almost any skill and that with practice any skill can be mastered.

I’m happy to announce that we are expecting our first child soon – so I’m sure there will be lots of parenting courses to consider but before I go down that rabbit hole I will need to get some of these home repairs out of the way. We’ve got a decent house that seems pretty solid but there are a few issues with the roof and some plumbing that looks mighty sketchy in the basement. So , the first course will either be a how-to be a plumber course or a roofing one – I’ll let you know what I decide and then we’ll get started!