News from the MCAA - The value of continuous learning: Insights from the MCAA Learning Programme

Newsletter

Career development and continuous learning are a core part of MCAA’s mission. One of such activities is the MCAA Learning programme, which provides members with free access to Coursera. Board member Gian Maria Greco, who is currently co-developing the brand new MCAA Training Programme, has interviewed the two most active MCAA members on Coursera: Majid Al-Taee and Niki Stathopoulou.

Majid Al-Taee, a personal account

I have a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering and over 20 years of academic and professional experience in Iraq, Jordan, and the UK. My research focuses on machine learning, e/mHealth, web and mobile applications, IoT, and systems control. I have been awarded numerous research grants, published over 150 papers, and received 10 scientific honors.

Majid Al-Taee
Majid Al-Taee

Niki Stathopoulou
Niki Stathopoulou

Niki Stathopoulou, a personal account

I hold a PhD in Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics and an MA in Computational Linguistics (University of Essex, UK), and two BAs in English & Linguistics (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens; American College of Greece). My research as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow (University of Bristol, UK) focussed on people with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Introduction

Regardless of career stage, whether students or established professionals, there is always a need to gain new skills and learn. This is the reason behind the MCAA Learning programme, which provides MCAA members with free access to the learning platform Coursera. MCAA can choose among 7000+ courses from 275+ leading universities and companies, or enroll in the several learning tracks that the MCAA has designed with Coursera. Licenses are allocated in 3-month cohorts. Every 3 months a new cohort of MCAA members is given access to the platform. The first 2023 cohort concluded at the end of March, and we had a chat with the two top members in terms of performance: Majid Al-Taee, who made 182 hours over 11 courses, and Niki Stathopoulou, who made 113 hours over 81 courses.

MCAA Learning Programme

What type of courses did you attend through the MCAA Learning programme?

Majid: I have completed four specializations in web design, web apps, search engine optimisation, and deep learning. In addition, I am making progress in a range of courses on supervised and unsupervised machine learning as well as one on personality types at work.

Niki: Over the years, I attended various short courses by Coursera, such as general statistics, research and design, statistical programming, web development, computer programming (i.e., python), probability and statistics, data analysis, machine learning, data visualization, leadership, and management. Last year, which was the first time that I have been allocated a 3-month license through the MCAA Learning programme, I was able to complete a number of courses from top universities based on my research interests, that is, psychology, neuroscience, mental health, and medicine. Moreover, I obtained two Specialization Certificates: Medical Terminology from Rice University and Neuroscience & Neuroimaging from Johns Hopkins University.

How can those courses help you with your current job or future career plans?

Majid: These courses, which mostly focus on data science and machine learning, would broaden the extent of my experience, complement my technical skills, and improve my knowledge and productivity in the relevant aspects.

Niki: Being active in terms of acquiring new skills and learning new things at any stage of one's life is of utmost importance nowadays, as we live in a post-COVID era that prevails both competition and insecurity. Personally, I am open to new job opportunities as I was obliged in the past (for various reasons) to enter into a long period of career break. Thus, those courses enhance my personal development and offer me a window to visualize a better future.

Based on your experience, what are some problems and potential solutions with continuous learning?

Majid: The rapid sociological, economic, and technological advancements have made continuous learning a potent tool for both personal and professional development. Innovation, trying new things, and thinking outside the box all require ongoing learning to deliver cutting-edge performance and adapt to the changing world. However, this kind of learning demands motivation, tenacity, and readiness to face challenges due to the lack of in-person interaction.

Niki: Continuous learning can be a lonely task, especially if companies or institutions do not foster encouragement to their employees or students/researchers. This could be alleviated by creating a supportive environment and establishing a personal development plan that encourages people to engage in continuous learning. The MCAA, by providing its members with free access to the learning platform Coursera, promotes continuous learning and boosts its members - irrespective of their career stage - to engage in learning new skills.

What is your opinion of the MCAA Learning programme? Do you have any suggestions for its future development?

Majid: The MCAA learning programme, in my opinion, is a trailblazing initiative that advances the goal of MSCA by helping fellows advance their careers further. I am extremely grateful to the MCAA for offering me the opportunity to use the Coursera platform and acquire new knowledge and skills. To better serve more MCAA members and extend the three-month cohort term, I suggest speaking with Coursera about the possibility of splitting the access license into two or three shifts. This enables the enrollment of multiple cohorts concurrently, allowing them to access the platform at various times throughout the day.

Niki: I think that the MCAA Learning program offers a new learning experience. The MCAA members can enroll in a wide range of courses that are organized into different categories. As there is always room for improvement, I would be happy if I see more courses on language learning, especially at the advanced level.

To reward Niki and Majid for their extraordinary engagement with the MCAA learning tools, their Coursera licenses have been extended for another 3 months. To request access to MCAA Learning, check this webpage.

Gian Maria Greco
MCAA Board Member
gianmaria.greco@mariecuriealumni.eu
twitter @GianMariaGreco

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