You wake up in the middle of the night, in a sweat, in a panic. You haven’t studied, or even attended Latin class all semester – and the final is TOMORROW!! Your eyes open, and you look around. This isn’t your dorm room. You’re not in college anymore. Whew! It’s just that recurring dream that seems to resurface a lot in the month of August. Maybe it’s a response to those back-to-school ads on TV, chipping away at your subconscious. Whatever the reason, do you find yourself thinking about school, education, and learning when late summer rolls around?
If you do, and you want to exercise your fabulous vegan brain, the options abound. You can learn online, offline, by subscription, or go “old school” and attend live lectures and events. You can sync up real-time, or nearly so, with like-minded peers, or you can set your own pace. You can spend a lot, a little, or in some cases, nothing at all. And the breadth and quality of content is dazzling. For example:
- This popular option lets you connect with professors and students through lectures, homework assignments, discussion boards, and study groups. Lectures are typically recorded so you can catch them when time allows. But assignments have due dates to keep you and your peers in lock step. Start by checking out Coursera and Udacity. The courses are free, and remarkably, are taught by the very professors who teach the same courses at Stanford, MIT, and the like. You get top-shelf instruction, and you have to work hard. Coursera has a wide selection of health, food, nutrition, and medicine offerings (such as Diabetes: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Opportunities, Nutrition for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and Exercise Physiology: Understanding the Athlete Within). Udacity is heavier on computer science and business classes (I enjoyed “The Lean Launchpad” course on building a startup business).
- Caroline learned a lot from the eCornell course, Plant-Based Nutrition, led by Colin Campbell, Ph.D. According to her, “The dual modes of online content plus online discussion with classmates was a powerful learning vehicle for me. I recommend the course to anyone interested in health and nutrition”. Though not a free course, like Caroline, you can garner a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition. A variant of the course allows you to earn CME credits.
Offerings of this type provide great information and great flexibility. You give up the real-time aspect and the interactions with peers and professors, however. For a terrific selection and incredible value, take a look at “The Great Courses”. We have shelves loaded with their DVDs. The subjects span a broad array – from art and music, to science, history, philosophy, and literature. You can access the content in a variety of ways (DVD, download, streaming, and audio only). To start, you might be interested in topics like these: The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking; Sensation, Perception, and the Aging Process; Understanding the Human Body: An Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology; or Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation. Quick tip: Buy courses when they are on sale – and every course goes on sale frequently.
- If you want to develop some specialized knowledge related to health, disease, and the impact of diet, consider learning from some of the leading lights in the field. Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. John McDougall, Jeff Novick, and others have produced DVDs packed with information and insight, targeted to the plant-strong community. Dr. McDougall has also built a new, self-paced, “Starch Solution Certification” course that Caroline and I completed last fall. Get to know these thought leaders in a previous post of mine.
- This variety of learning vehicle typically takes the form of a podcast that is produced on a regular basis. It’s great if you use a smart phone or tablet. You can subscribe to the podcast, and new content will be delivered to your device when it becomes available.
- My favorite source for podcasts is the Apple Store, and specifically, iTunesU. There’s a dizzying amount of material available. Quick tip: Search for topics of interest and then filter/narrow the results. For example, a search at the Apple Store on “food”, filtered to iTunesU, yielded: Edible Education from UC Berkeley; Nutrition Education for Cancer Prevention from Iowa State University, Food and Sustainable Agriculture from Yale, and The Rudd Report from the Yale Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
- Let’s not forget the granddaddy of them all, the real-time, on-site, all-together, all-at-once event. You can’t beat the sense of community and the thrill of learning that comes from getting together face-to-face. For example, if you haven’t attended previously, make time for a McDougall Advanced Study Weekend (coming up Sept 5-7, 2014). Dr. McDougall, Mary McDougall, and their excellent staff put on an outstanding program twice a year in Santa Rosa, CA. They assemble a top-notch group of speakers from around the country to talk about the latest research and to provide new perspectives on health, nutrition, and sustainable living. Your vegan brain will be exhilarated.
- Or try a Farms to Forks event – the next one is Sept 12-14 in Austin, TX. We attended last year’s “Plant-Stock” event, hosted at the Esselstyn Family Farm in Claverack, NY. It was an excellent gathering with friends and great minds/leaders in the field.
Why Bother Exercising Your Vegan Brain?
Despite all these options available for learning and self-improvement, do you ever ask yourself, “Why bother? Doesn’t Google and/or the internet have all the answers? Isn’t it smarter than you or I will ever be?” A big thinker named Kevin Kelly once said, “… someday answers (correct answers!) will be so cheap that the really valuable things will be questions. A really good question will be worth a thousand correct answers.” Do you know who can ask a brilliant question? You. The person who has learned from others and from your own observations. You. The person who’s made the unique connections between your experience and your learnings. You. Keep learning. You and your vegan brain are not done.