In June 2021, Coursera made this course certificate free, and I enrolled. At first, I was a bit skeptical about the course and only casually watched the first few videos. But the surprise came a few days later when I received an invitation from Class Central to join the Study Group for ALOHAF. It changed my view of the course forever!
As the name suggests, the course teaches us about happiness. More precisely, it teaches us how to be happy. Sounds abstract, but in reality, the course is scientific and research-based. It has twenty guest speakers from reputed institutions all around the world, who’ve all contributed to research on happiness or related topics. In addition to drawing from his own findings, Dr. Raj talks about many studies and books that show us how important it is to be happy, how much we devalue happiness, and how we can overcome the obstacles to find happiness.
During the six weeks of the course, Dr. Raj tells us about the “seven deadly happiness sins” that we commit in our day-to-day lives that make us less happy. Then, he teaches us the “seven habits of the highly happy” — that is, habits that can increase our happiness levels. This is followed by a “happiness exercise”, where Catherine Xavier (ALOHAF’s teaching assistant) explains how to practice those habits. Finally, each module ends with a quiz or a peer-graded assignment that tests our progress and understanding. The course includes optional readings on happiness to further our understanding.
It is worth mentioning here that the exercises are not your run-of-the-mill MOOC exercises. They are specially-designed surveys by Dr. Raj. Some of them even send you daily reminders so that you don’t forget to practice what you’ve learnt. He also measures your happiness levels three times during the course: at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. And believe me, just as Dr. Raj says at the start of the course, your happiness level is bound to increase if you pay attention to his lectures and adopt his happiness habits. And that’s the aim of this course!
Besides the happiness scale, the course presents scales that measure the desire for control, interpersonal trust, and more. These help you evaluate where you stand in those areas and practice the happiness exercises accordingly. They’re there for the betterment of the learner.
Dr. Raj has a website with more resources, such as information about his work, his book (If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?), and happiness exercises.
The Course: My View
What struck me most about ALOHAF is the amount of effort the ALOHAF team put into it. So far, I have taken over fifty MOOCs, but nowhere else have I seen such a strong desire to not only create a marvelous course, but design it in a way that actually benefits learners in the long run. Dr. Raj’s happiness research permeates the course. His desire to help learners is apparent. The course is thorough, and the quizzes test your understanding in great detail. So you really need to pay attention, and once you pass, you get a sense of accomplishment. Most importantly, it works — the more you practice the happiness exercises, the happier you become.
It was amazing to have so many guest speakers, another unique feature of this course. Seeing so much research being done on happiness motivated me to do research on it myself. Dr. Raj is an inspiration!
Study Groups are a recent Class Central initiative where learners from different parts of the world take the same course together. Anyone can join a Study Group. Each one is structured around a course that can live on a variety of MOOC platforms. For instance, the first Study Group was structured around Coursera’s Mountains 101. You can find a review of that Study Group here, written by Fabio, who also took part in the ALOHAF Study Group.
Learners are encouraged to follow a common course schedule. And once per week, they meet for a live session (in Zoom). These may be led by the course instructor, so learners can listen to them and share thoughts and questions. Besides live sessions, there is a forum where learners can post topics about the course and interact with each other.
The ALOHAF Study Group was friendly and insightful. It was six weeks long, mirroring the course structure. The weekly one-hour live session took place on Fridays. More than 700 learners signed up for the Study Group. Happiness being an abstract topic, the threads in the forum ranged from simple to philosophical, as each learner shared their own thoughts and experiences, including beautiful photos, research works, advice, achievements, friendly encouragement, and all-around appreciation for each other. Learners came from a variety of age groups, but that didn’t prevent us from understanding each other.
The most awaited part of the Study Group was the weekly live session with Dr. Raj. They started 30 minutes before Dr. Raj joined, and ended long after he left. During this extra time, learners had friendly conversations with each other and shared interesting facts related to the course. Once Dr. Raj arrived, the atmosphere completely changed. All eyes would be on him. He would give mini-lectures on the topics covered in that week, and then open the floor for questions and thoughts. He interacted with as many learners as possible and kept the sessions lively. These were so much fun. The hour went by in an instant.
The Study Group: My View
I never thought I would get to see such a reputed professor as Dr. Raj in real life (well, over Zoom, if not in person!), given how busy they are. But Dr. Raj’s generosity and Class Central’s initiative made it possible. Every week, I was eager for Friday to come and made sure not to miss a single live session. Getting to see him was almost unbelievable!
Moreover, having such a global and diverse class was a totally new experience for me. I only used to dream of it, and Class Central made it come true. Having international peers changes your outlook and teaches you a lot more than just the subject itself. You get a better sense of how vast the world is, and that you are not alone.
Even though the live sessions have ended, the forum remains open, so learners can continue to interact. And there’s more to come: right now, Class Central is preparing to launch a Free Web Development Bootcamp that builds on the idea of Study Groups.
Due to the pandemic, at this time in India, education remains mostly online. As a student myself, I can say it gets tiring. However, Study Groups are different. The way they are structured does not put pressure on learners as everyone can study at their own pace, which is extremely important. They promote self-learning and interaction within the peers and with the instructor. They do not bind learning to age groups either. All that matters is learning. And they show that online learning can be so much fun! I hope that Study Groups continue to gain popularity and the concept is incorporated into online education at large.
A big thanks to Class Central, especially @dhawal and @manoel, for doing such great work arranging the live sessions, keeping forums active, and making this Study Group a success! Also, thanks to all my wonderful peers for encouraging me and motivating me to complete the course. I look forward to joining more Study Groups in the future.
The Study Group has given me immense happiness, as is the purpose of ALOHAF!