Would learning something new wash your Acedia away?

Is Acadia running your life right now? Are you, like the solitary monks who used that term in the middle ages, suffering from the combination of boredom, frustration, agitation and lethargy that comes with physical isolation?

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Let’s hope it doesn’t last too long, but in the meantime it may be helpful to know that there is a word for what you are feeling right now and that, across time as well as space, you are not alone.

What can we do about acedia?

Now that you know what it’s called you’re probably feeling a little better, so what should you now do to fill in the time until life gets back to normal again? Lots of people are having trouble answering that question because all their ideas require proximity to others, time outdoors or the ability to get far away from home. We need to find something satisfying that involves few strangers and fewer kilometres.

The impulse during COVID has been to try to find ways of doing what we always do within the confines of the restrictions. The initial response for lots of people who are working from home is to keep working through all the hours that aren’t taken up with other responsibilities like family and household duties.  If that doesn’t work, they might turn to streamed pilates, yoga and gym classes. Live concerts streamed to our lounge rooms are good too along with easy extensions of existing skills like stepping cooking styles up a notch, getting some use out of the tools in the tool shed or learning, at last, to knit that fair isle pattern you’ve been struggling with for years.

Should we get serious about using our time?

Maybe it would be better to get a little more serious about filling in our time at home. I am reluctant to remind you that you still haven’t written that novel or built the extension on the house. Perhaps those things were a little too ambitious

You could enrol in a tertiary degree but that is expensive these days and if you’ve already got one that you’re happy with doing another may not be a sensible idea.

 You could also do some those short online courses you’ve been meaning to do to improve your work-related skills, but to me that just feels like another way of work taking over your life. Would more work really cure your acedia?

There are probably still things you want to know about though. Things you have always wanted to know about and maybe haven’t thought about for a while. Things you might have done earlier if you hadn’t been so focussed on your career. Things that have the potential to fill your leisure hours with pleasure, and lead to other interesting areas of learning.

Have you heard of MOOCs?

MOOCs have been around for a dozen or so years. It stands for Massive Online Open Course.  They are short courses presented in enjoyable often interactive ways by reputable institutions which contribute a huge array of sophisticated courses to the MOOC platforms with an eye to attracting enrolment to their more traditional courses. It’s a great way to learn something new and work out what you want to know more about, efficiently and at no cost.

Where can I find these MOOCs?

There are a number of different MOOC platforms to choose from (Wikipedia has a list of them here) and signing up to emails from them will notify you of new courses as they become available.

This week my Coursera email led me to courses in Musicianship, Creative Writing, Creative Thinking, Social Policy Development, Becoming a Singer-Songwriter and How to Play the Guitar. I’m currently halfway through a Sydney University course about the Indigenous culture of the Sydney Basin on Coursera. Check out what else is available on their website  https://www.coursera.org/

Like Coursera, the Future Learn platform is currently offering hundreds of courses, so there’s plenty to choose from. I’ve done one on Wordsworth from Bristol University and one about the intersection of Medicine and Creativity from a university in South Africa. If this sort of stuff doesn’t appeal to you please check out all 577 current free Future Learn offerings here.

OpenLearning is Australia’s contribution to the array of MOOC platforms. Courses are offered by individuals as well as a group of Australian Universities including UNSW, University of Melbourne, UWS and others. Interestingly, the most popular course currently offered on this platform has over 203,000 enrolments but it seems to be in Bahasa so I don’t think it will be my next learning adventure. (I hasten to add that it is also available English, but that version has a paltry 7,244 enrolments and I don’t really want to learn the “Mechanics of Buying a House”!) Most of the platform’s 135 free courses are in English, so there may well be something there that would appeal to you. What about “Introductory Japanese” or a course from UTS about the “Internet of Things”?

I hope that once you’ve looked at those platforms you will be inspired to wash that acedia away with a bit of learning about something completely different.

Maybe you know someone else who could benefit from knowing about these courses too.

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Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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