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The benefits of learning in a time of lockdown

By Barbara Henderson

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A number of online courses are being offered for free during lockdown.
A number of online courses are being offered for free during lockdown.

We arrange our chairs around the kitchen table, tilt the computer screen so we can both see and press play.

Soon, our pens scratch on our notebook pages. My 19-year-old daughter and I are doing an online course together, An Introduction to Screenwriting, one of a range of free courses from Futurelearn.

Do I yearn to be a screenwriter? Does she?

Perhaps not, but it is an interesting, stimulating addition to our days. And who knows when these skills will come in handy in the future? I am tied to the house for the majority of my time, so I may as well make the best of it!

In the living room, my husband and other daughter are engaged in lively discussion about their free online theology course. Completing these courses alongside someone else in the family creates shared memories, a shared experience, too. It’s win win!

Lockdown really should be a little easier for creative types, shouldn’t it? After all, your imagination is still your own and is free to roam wherever it pleases. I can still write, musicians can play and compose, artists can find solace in their creativity, and I would argue that much of the gardening and home improvement going on around the Highlands springs from the same source – an urge to be productive, to have something to show for our lockdown months.

And yet the internet is full of discussion on how hard it has been to be creative. I have definitely struggled to meet my latest publisher’s deadline. People, understandably, feel worried and anxious, and worry and anxiety can be a real hindrance to creativity.

Of course, I’d prefer sitting in an actual theatre to glaring at a screen, but for the time being, this will have to do

None of this is rocket science. Which is why, in my humble opinion, the short online courses come into their own at this time. There are three reasons for this:

1. Learning new skills is good for us. We develop a sense of achievement and it stimulates our thinking.

2. It gives us something new to talk about to those around us. I am sure my husband and other children will be captivated by arguments of traditional three-act structure versus non-conventional storytelling on screen… All right, they probably won’t! But while we are all caught in the no-man’s-land between internet guinea pig memes and the depressing newsreel of Covid casualties, a new subject of conversation is surely very welcome.

3. Most crucially for me, it has given structure to my day. We all crave routine, and even though I am a fairly sociable extrovert, I am at my best with a predictable order to my day. Doing the course has helped with that.

There is a wide range of free courses on offer. Futurelearn provides the one I am doing, and it lists 476 free online courses, delivered in collaboration with some of the country’s best universities. With university level literature courses on Shakespeare, Burns, Scott and Austen as well as the Book of Kells, I think I will be kept busy for a while.

The Open University runs its own programme of free courses at www.open.edu/openlearn/free-courses/full-catalogue and as you may expect from such a reputable source, the quality and range of courses is staggering. They certainly know what they’re doing with remote learning!

There are other providers, of course; this list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you a head-start.

And don’t forget to reward yourself too. I’ve been so impressed with the National Theatre’s live streamed performances of One Man Two Guvnors and Jane Eyre. As I write, lockdown has been extended for another three weeks and I can’t wait to watch Treasure Island tonight.

I am more than happy to donate to cash-strapped arts organisations for the privilege of watching their output. In addition, via social media, we can still exchange views with others about what we have seen and heard. Of course, I’d prefer sitting in an actual theatre to glaring at a screen, but for the time being, this will have to do – and I am immensely grateful for what is on offer.

Why don’t you join me?

Look out for: Tain writer CC Hutton’s Blàs of the Highlands – one heart-warming year, one offbeat community in the rural Scottish Highlands. Blàs is a village under threat. Can Stroma and her friends save their quaint and quirky way of life?

Blas of the Highlands.
Blas of the Highlands.

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