Free Learning (yep… “free”)



Just before Christmas I noticed a few posts on Twitter about a free screenwriting course that was being run by the University of East Anglia via the FutureLearn website, which has a variety of free courses available. I “ummed” and “ahhhed” about it for a long time, but eventually signed up in January. To be honest, what had I got to lose, other than a bit of time? And there is never anything wrong with a bit of learning. So I signed up, got access to the pre-course discussion and got ready for the course to kick-off a few weeks later.

I thought I would write up my experience of this course as it is running again in May. It might be of interest to other writers who like free things!

Led by Michael Lengsfield, the course is split over a number of modules that are spread across two weeks. However, you can access all of the articles, videos and discussion from the off.

Michael is supported on the course by Christabelle Dilks, Molly Naylor and Tom Benn who crop up in the various video discussions that form parts of the course. They are also on hand to offer comment and advice in the discussion attached to each section of the course.

The course elements cover subjects such as Cinematic Form, Structure, Acts, Developing Characters, Writing Scenes, Formatting and getting through that First Draft. Each section can be attacked in any order (although chronologically makes most sense) and can be checked off in your account to show you have completed it. You can also join in a discussion on each section if you so wish.

The course suggested 3 hours a week, but this can be more or less, depending on your current experience and how much time you want to put into reviewing the lessons and working on some of the tools and exercises. However, there is no pressure to do anything and it can all be undertaken at your own pace; you can do as much, or as little as you like. (Of course, the more you put in the more you should get out.)

Certificates are available, but these are charged for – you will need to decide for yourself whether you think you need a certificate from the course and a charge is understandable when you consider the course is free.

So is it any good?

Well, it certainly won’t do you any harm if you sign up and take part. How much benefit you get from it depends entirely on how much experience you have with screenplays and how much time you want to invest in the course.

If you are very experienced, then this might not be the course for you. Personally, I did find I had covered a lot of the content before, in other courses and texts. However, there were one of two things that I took away from the course that I think will be helpful. In addition to this, it is always informative and fascinating to get involved in writing discussion with other writers, and much can be learned from bouncing ideas and thoughts off each other in the discussion sections for each module.

If you are brand new to screenplays and want a nice introduction to what they are all about and an overview of format and structure, you could do a lot worse than sign up for this course. As I may have mentioned… it is free, so you don’t really have anything to lose and, if you are worried about the time commitment, I am now a couple of weeks after the end of my course, and I still have access to the materials.

Part of me feels that the course is also a bit of an advert for the full-time courses that are run by the University, but this is hardly surprising and there is no hard sell.

One aspect of the course that did annoy me was the discussion sections. As great as it is to have access to a forum to discuss what you have just learned, there was little structure to the discussion. The discussions are not organised in a typical forum style, but presented as simply a list of chronological comments on the subject in hand. Responses can be embedded, but the list of comments soon runs into the hundreds (sometimes thousands) so it is unlikely you will be able to take it all in. Some more structure to this might help people see more of the discussion they are interested in.

Having said that, it is possible to follow individuals who have generated interesting discussions and to filter their content, meaning you only see what you want to see. So it is not impossible to use, I just found it a bit clunky.

But, otherwise, as a free course, it was easy to sign up to, had a decent amount of information to help you on your way, was nicely presented and easy to use. As I have said, if you are starting out, or need a bit of inspiration, then this is a good course to cut your teeth on.

If you are an experienced writer, it may still be interesting, but may not further your knowledge to any great degree.

Check it out and let me know if you took part in February or are signing up for May. As with anything like this, if you want to do it, do it and, most importantly, have fun doing it!


Posted on March 23, 2016, in Learning, Uncategorized, Writing, writing exercises, Writing Rules and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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