You are reading

After His Son Co-Founded Coursera, He Became Its Earliest Student and Completed 146 Courses

After His Son Co-Founded Coursera, He Became Its Earliest Student and Completed 146 Courses

  • Culture
  • People
All images and screenshots courtesy of Ronald Ng.

Note: In light of many of us receiving our SkillsFuture credits by 1 Oct 2020 (and for some 31 Dec 2020), the following account is part two of RICE’s Extreme Upskilling series, where we speak with an individual who has gone above and beyond the norm in what we now refer to as ‘skills upgrading’.  You can read part one here. This account has been lightly edited for clarity.

Never Stop Learner

My name is Ronald Paul Ng and I’m 74 this year.

As a child, I grew up in a middle-class family in Hong Kong and found my passions in reading and music. As far as I can recall, I was always at the bottom of my class in primary school. Then I took an interest in playing the violin and the viola and somehow, leapt to the top of my class.

While still a student, I was asked to join the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. I remember seeing the professionals getting paid to attend rehearsals and concerts while I, being just a student, was only paid for the concerts (not the rehearsals).

From then on, I was spurred to learn the violin and viola even more. Over time, I fell in love with it. My appreciation for music grew. While one aspect of it is learning the techniques to master a musical instrument, the other aspect is fitting in with an orchestra. The meta-lesson here is harmony, which is your ability to listen to other musicians and collaborate with them.

This also helped me excel in class, sometimes without even much studying! To this day, I believe music and its collaborative nature opened up certain channels in my brain, allowing me to understand concepts, both inside and outside of the classroom.

The Circle of Learning: This is a screenshot from a message my son, Andrew, shared. Here, he is thanking me when I first passed him a copy of a 1980 paper I wrote, on machine learning for the diagnosis of liver diseases. Inspired by it, he went on to co-found Coursera (and GoogleBrain, DeepLearning.ai, etc), which allowed me to take on online courses and learn so much more about the world.
When my son, Andrew Ng, co-founded Coursera in 2012, I took some of the courses out of curiosity. The first Coursera course I signed up for was called Model Thinking, a logic-based online programme from the University of Michigan.

At first, I didn’t think much of it. But little by little, I would continuously learn and take up more courses over the years. Today, I’ve completed 146 courses and am still going!

If you ask me why I did it, I don’t have a straight answer. Maybe it’s the same way I perceive my music and being part of an orchestra. I did it simply for the love of doing it.

 

The Singaporean Trooper

After graduating from Hong Kong University and having become a specialist, I came to Singapore in 1984, aged 38, to start my private practice as a doctor. Yet, while doing so, I also volunteered with the SAF as a medic.

At first, I went through the Military Medical Course with other volunteer nurses and doctors, and became a captain. After a few years, I was sent to attend an Advance Medical Officer Course. When the OC of a company could not attend ICT, I was appointed acting OC and soon after, the actual OC.

A few exercises later, I was made Major. During in-camp training, I was also the senior officer in charge of live firing exercises. Come to think about it, it was really stressful.

Prior to becoming a Singaporean in 1986, I volunteered as an SAF medic (that’s me on the extreme left). Little did I expect that I would have to lead by example while learning from others as well.
In the SAF, I learned that managing people is a skillset all on its own. If one leads by example, the men will follow you. It shows that you understand the men’s situation, you empathise with them, and they will respond to you.

There was once, when the men were being taught how to set up IV drips in camp, I let them set up on me, knowing they might fail. After that, they would be willing to do it to each other for practice.


The Silver Lining of Taking An Unexpected Course

In case you’re wondering, no, taking online courses is not my day job. But I’m glad to admit that my interest in lifelong learning has taken me places, from the SAF to my current workplace, and the digital space.

I currently work (still working at 74!) as a specialist in haematology, or blood-related diseases, at the Icon Haematology Centre in Singapore. I am also a Principal Mediator with the Singapore Mediation Centre and Volunteer Court Mediator with the State Court.

When I signed up for Coursera in 2012, I just took whatever I thought was interesting. I started with any courses just to see what they were like. Eventually, economics-based courses like Game Theory and Agent-Based Modelling became my main interests.

There was a course on Forensic Medicine, which I initially took out of curiosity, but didn’t really think was useful. One day, in the course of my work, a foreign patient came to me for a blood test. He suspected he had mercury poisoning.

Because he’d been out of his home country for more than 3 months, his blood test didn’t show any evidence of that. However, recalling my online course, I learned that it’s possible to measure the level of mercury in our hair. When hair first starts to grow, the blood level of mercury (if traces of it exist), would be present in its tip.

So I approached NTU, where I took the Forensic Medicine course, and spoke with the professor.

He asked for a strand of my patient’s hair. Lo and behold, the tip of the man’s hair had high concentrations of mercury, which proved my patient’s testimony—and justified my taking the online course!

This is one example where I believe it is good to know about other disciplines and having cross-domain knowledge. You never know their true value until they hit you.

A specialist in a particular field of knowledge is someone who knows more and more about something, but in the end, knows everything about nothing.


Establishing Routines But Looking Beyond the Science

Over the years, while taking my online courses, I’ve learned to develop a routine. I make notes on my tablet or on Evernote. I make a conscious decision to schedule my online lectures and do my assignments across different days of the week.

In terms of cost, I can’t recall if I’ve spent all that much with the online courses. Most of the time, if you don’t want the certificate, it costs nothing. The courses from London University cost the most, but the ones I took were about US$50 each (no, I didn’t get any discounts even though my son’s the co-founder of Coursera).

In life, we learn what I call meta-lessons in the many things we do. In the Army, I learned a lot about planning, handling of firearms and so on—all military skills. However, there are also life lessons.

After days of ICT in the field, with no facilities for washing and days of army rations, returning to base after field training and taking that first cold shower from a hose felt heavenly. That first plate of Hokkien mee at the hawker centre—better tasting than any food in a Michelin-starred restaurant. These life lessons taught me that we need very little in life to make us happy, provided we have that frame of mind to enjoy whatever we have.

Being trained and involved in mediation has also made me realise that my practice in medicine is more than just scientific knowledge to help the sick. It is an art, especially when dealing with people and communicating different aspects of their well-being to them.

Similarly, most of us have this idea that learning is simply to learn a skill in order to “upgrade” and earn more money.

It’s more than that.

The joy of learning helps keep the mind sharp and allows us to appreciate the beauty of the subject matter. When I did a course on Einstein’s Special Relativity, I was in awe of the wonders of the universe and how they are structured.

For lack of a better phrase, it blew my mind.

Personally, we need to look at our children and learn like them. Children are always asking why this, why that, and wondering how things work. We need to remain mentally young and have the same sense of wonderment.

Lifelong learning is not just a matter of learning something useful. It is a way to keep our minds young, just like how picking up that violin years ago, has brought me to where I am today.

* Here are the 146 online courses Ronald completed since he started in 2012. They were mostly taken via Coursera, which his son, Andrew Ng, co-founded with Daphne Koller in 2012.

Listed by Course Name / Discipline / University / Year and Month of Completion / Online Course Platform, and sorted from earliest to latest date.

  1. Model Thinking / Logic / Michigan / 2012 December / Coursera
  2. New History for a New China 1700-2000 Part I / Social Science / HKUST / 2013 August / Coursera
  3. Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction / Literature / Virginia / 2013 December / Coursera
  4. Conditions of War and Peace / Political Science / Tokyo / 2013 December / Coursera
  5. Diabetes: Diagnosis, Treatment and Opportunities / Medicine / UCSF / 2013 December / Coursera
  6. Rationing and Allocating Scarce Medical Resources / Ethics / Pennsylvania / 2013 July / Coursera
  7. Game Theory / Economics / Stanford / 2013 March / Coursera
  8. Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Thinking / Psychology / Duke / 2013 May / Coursera
  9. Know Thyself / Philosophy / Virginia / 2013 May / Coursera
  10. Science, Technology and Society in China I / Social Science / HKUST / 2013 May / Coursera
  11. Social Psychology / Psychology / Wesleyan / 2013 October / Coursera
  12. From the Big Bang to Dark Energy / Astronomy / Tokyo / 2013 October / Coursera
  13. English Common Law: Structure and Principles / Law / Birkbeck College, London / 2013 September / Coursera
  14. Fiction of Relationship / Literature / Brown / 2013 September / Coursera
  15. Think Again: How to Argue / Logic / Duke / 2013 September / Coursera
  16. Introduction to Philosophy / Philosophy / Edinburgh / 2013 September / Coursera
  17. Clinical Problem Solving / Medicine / UCSF / 2013 September / Coursera
  18. Creative Problem Solving / Design / Minnesota / 2014 April / Coursera
  19. Confronting the Big Questions: Highlights of Modern Astronomy / Astronomy / Rochester / 2014 April / Coursera
  20. Analysing the Universe / Astronomy / Rutgers / 2014 April / Coursera
  21. Preventing Chronic Pain: A Human Systems Approach / Medicine / Minnesota / 2014 August / Coursera
  22. Introduction to Forensic Science / Forensic / NTU / 2014 August / Coursera
  23. Revolutionary Ideas: Introduction to Legal and Political Philosophy / Political Science / Pennsylvania / 2014 December / Coursera
  24. Fundamentals of Rehearsing Music Ensembles / Music / North Carolina / 2014 July / Coursera
  25. Developing Your Musicianship / Music / Berklee / 2014 June / Coursera
  26. International Human Rights Law: Prospects and Challenges / Law / Duke / 2014 June / Coursera
  27. AstroTech: The Science and Technology behind Astronomical Discovery / Astronomy / Edinburgh / 2014 June / Coursera
  28. Data Scientist’s Toolbox / Computer / John Hopkins / 2014 June / Coursera
  29. Moralities of Everyday Life / Psychology / Yale / 2014 March / Coursera
  30. Visual Perception and the Brain / Neuroscience / Duke / 2014 November / Coursera
  31. Creativity, Innovation and Change / Design / Pennsylvania / 2014 October / Coursera
  32. Programming for Everyday (Python) / Computer / Michigan / 2014 September / Coursera
  33. Emergence of Life / Paleontology / Illinois / 2014 September / Coursera
  34. Astronomy: Exploring Time and Space / Astronomy / Arizona / 2015 April / Coursera
  35. Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills / Business / Michigan / 2015 April / Coursera
  36. Antimicrobial Stewardship / Medicine / Stanford / 2015 April / Coursera
  37. Finance for Non-Financial Professionals / Business / UCI / 2015 April / Coursera
  38. Introduction to Classical Music / Music / Yale / 2015 April / Coursera
  39. The Art of Negotiation / Business / UCI / 2015 April / Coursera
  40. Communication in the 21st Century Workplace / Business / UCI / 2015 April / Coursera
  41. Effective Problem-Solving and Decision-Making / Business / UCI / 2015 April / Coursera
  42. Logic: Language and Information I / Logic / Melbourne / 2015 April / Coursera
  43. Cosmology / Astronomy / Australian National University / 2015 August / edX
  44. Psychology of Popularity / Psychology / North Carolina / 2015 August / Coursera
  45. Creative Problem Solving and Decision Making / Design / Delft University of Technology / 2015 August / edX
  46. Dog Emotion and Cognition / Psychology / Duke / 2015 August / Coursera
  47. Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences Unit 2: Belief Systems / Philosophy / Rutgers / 2015 August / Coursera
  48. Role of Global Capital Markets / Business / Melbourne / 2015 August / Coursera
  49. Economic Growth and Distributive Justice / Economics / Tel Aviv / 2015 December / Coursera
  50. Understanding China, 1700-2000 Part II / Political Science / HKUST / 2015 December / Coursera
  51. A Law Student’s Toolkit / Law / Yale / 2015 December / Coursera
  52. Ancient Egypt: A history in six objects / Egyptology / Manchester Museum / 2015 December / Coursera
  53. Origins – Formation of the Universe, Solar System, Earth and Life / Astronomy / Copenhagen / 2015 February / Coursera
  54. Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience and Neuromarketing / Neuroscience / Copenhagen Business School / 2015 February / Coursera
  55. Philosophy and the Sciences / Philosophy / Edinburgh / 2015 January / Coursera
  56. How to Change the World / Social Science / Wesleyan / 2015 January / Coursera
  57. Writing for Young Readers: Opening the Treasure Chest / Writing / Commonwealth Education Trust / 2015 July / Coursera
  58. Greek and Roman Mythology / Literature / Pennsylvania / 2015 July / Coursera
  59. Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology / Paleontology / Alberta / 2015 June / Coursera
  60. Science of the Solar System / Astronomy / Caltech / 2015 June / Coursera
  61. Programming in Scratch / Computer / Harvey Mudd / 2015 June / edX
  62. Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences Unit 1: Historical Foundations / Philosophy / Rutgers / 2015 June / Coursera
  63. Language and Tools of Financial Analysis / Business / Melbourne / 2015 June / Coursera
  64. Write Like Mozart: Introduction to Classical Music Composition NUS / 2015 March / Music Coursera
  65. Gamification / Business / Pennsylvania / 2015 March / Coursera
  66. Critical Thinking in Global Challenges / Logic / Edinburgh / 2015 March / Coursera
  67. Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life / Astronomy / Edinburgh / 2015 May / Coursera
  68. Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics / Linguistics / Leiden / 2015 May / Coursera
  69. The Power of Macroeconomics:Economic Principles in the Real World / Business / UCI / 2015 May / Coursera
  70. Buddhism and Modern Psychology / Psychology / Princeton / 2015 November / Coursera
  71. Principles of Macroeconomics / Business / Melbourne / 2015 November / Coursera
  72. Alternative Approaches to Valuation and Investment / Business / Melbourne / 2015 October / Coursera
  73. Journalism Skills for Engaged Citizens / Journalism / Melbourne / 2015 October / Coursera
  74. Tibetan Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World: Lesser Vehicle / Philosophy / Virginia / 2015 September / Coursera
  75. Modern and Postmodern Part I / Literature / Wesleyan / 2015 September / Coursera
  76. Corporate Financial Decision-Making for Value Creation / Business / Melbourne / 2015 September / Coursera
  77. Using Python to Access Web Data / Computer / Michigan / 2016 April / Coursera
  78. Global Warming I: The Science and Modelling of Climate Change / Climatology / Chicago / 2016 August / Coursera
  79. Judaism Through Its Scriptures / Religion / Harvard / 2016 August / edX
  80. Machine Learning / Computer / Stanford / 2016 August / Coursera
  81. Beauty of Kunqu Opera / Music / HK Chinese University / 2016 August / Coursera
  82. Creative Writing: The Craft of Style / Writing / Wesleyan / 2016 August / Coursera
  83. Visualising Japan I / History / MIT / 2016 December / edX
  84. Introduction to Complexity / Complexity / Santa Fe Institute / 2016 December / Santa Fe Institute
  85. Visualizing Postwar Tokyo I / Sociology / Tokyo University / 2016 December / edX
  86. Creative Writing Capstone project / Writing / Wesleyan / 2016 December / Coursera
  87. Oriental Beliefs – Between Reason and Traditions / History / Universite catholique de Louvain / 2016 December / edX
  88. Islam Through Its Scriptures / Religion / Harvard / 2016 July / edX
  89. Creative Writing: The Craft of Setting and Description / Writing / Wesleyan / 2016 July / Coursera
  90. Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot / Writing / Wesleyan / 2016 June / Coursera
  91. Creative Writing: the Craft of Character / Writing / Wesleyan / 2016 June / Coursera
  92. Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python) / Computer / Michigan / 2016 March / Coursera
  93. Python Data Structure / Computer / Michigan / 2016 March / Coursera
  94. From Trust to Promise to Contract / Law / Harvard / 2016 March / edX
  95. Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures / Religion / Harvard / 2016 March / edX
  96. Chinese Politics Part I / Political Science / HKUST / 2016 March / Coursera
  97. Biology Meets Programming: Bioinformatics for Beginners / Computer / UC San Diego / 2016 March / Coursera
  98. The Art of Poetry / Literature / Boston / 2016 May / edX
  99. Christianity Through Its Scriptures / Religion / Harvard / 2016 May / edX
  100. Buddhism Through Its Scriptures / Religion / Harvard / 2016 May / edX
  101. Chinese Politics Part II / Political Science / HKUST / 2016 May / Coursera
  102. Introduction to Ancient Egypt and its Civilisation / History / Pennsylvania / 2016 November / Coursera
  103. Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity / Science / Stanford / 2016 November / Coursera
  104. Magic in the Middle Ages / History / Barcelona / 2016 October / Coursera
  105. Fall and Rise of Jerusalem / History / Tel Aviv / 2016 October / Coursera
  106. Responsive Website: HTML, CSS and Javascript / Computer / London University / 2016 October / Coursera
  107. Viral Marketing and How to Craft Contagious Content / Business / Pennsylvania / 2016 September / Coursera
  108. The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose and Political Future / Religion / Emory / 2016 September / Coursera
  109. Fractals and Scaling / Complexity / Santa Fe Institute / 2017 April / Sante Fe Institute
  110. Business Applications of Hypothesis Testing and Confidence Interval Estimation / Business / Rice University / 2017 April / Coursera
  111. Linear Regression for Business Statistics / Business / Rice University / 2017 April / Coursera
  112. Emergent Phenomenon in Science and Everyday Life / Complexity / University of California, Irvine / 2017 February / Coursera
  113. Intellectual Humility / Philosophy / Edinburgh / 2017 January / Coursera
  114. Philosophy, Science and Religion: Philosophy and Science / Philosophy / Edinburgh / 2017 January / Coursera
  115. De-Mystifying Mindfulness / Psychology / Leiden / 2017 January / Coursera
  116. Global Diplomacy – Diplomacy in the Modern World / Social Science / London University / 2017 January / Coursera
  117. Film, Images & Historical Interpretation in the 20th Century: The Camera Never Lies / Humanities / London University / 2017 June / Coursera
  118. Basic Data Descriptors, Statistical Distributions, and Application to Business Decisions / Business / Rice University / 2017 March / Coursera
  119. Quantum Mechanics / Science / Harvard / 2017 May / edX
  120. Introduction to Data Analysis using Excel / Computer / Rice University / 2107 February / Coursera
  121. Systems Science and Obesity / Complexity / John Hopkins / 2017 August / Coursera
  122. Systems Thinking in Public Health / Complexity / John Hopkins / 2017 August / Coursera
  123. Justice / Philosophy / Harvard / 2017 August / edX
  124. Introduction to Music Theory / Music / Berklee / 2017 Sept / edX
  125. Philosophy, Science and Religion: Philosophy and Religion / Philosophy / Edinburgh / 2017 Sept / Coursera
  126. Introduction to Agent Based Modelling / Complexity / Santa Fe / 2017 Sept / Santa Fe Institute
  127. Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos / Complexity / Santa Fe / 2017 October / Santa Fe Institute
  128. Network Dynamics of Social Behavior / Complexity / University of Pennsylvania / 2017 November / Coursera
  129. Wonders of Ancient Egypt / Egyptology / University of Pennsylvania / 2017 November / Coursera
  130. How Music can change your Life / Music / Melbourne University / 2017 December / Coursera
  131. Musicianship: Chord Chart, Diatonic Chords, and Minor Keys / Music / Berklee / 2017 December / Coursera
  132. Age of Cathedrals / Humanities / Yale / 2018 January / Coursera
  133. Explorations in Confucian Philosophy / Humanities / NTU / 2018 June / Coursera
  134. Business, International Relations and the Political Economy / Economics, Political Science / LSE / 2018 August / LSE
  135. IRB and Ethics in Human Research / Ethics / CITI / 2018 October / CITI
  136. Analysing Complexity I / Complexity / Macquarie University / 2018 December / Coursera
  137. Analysing Complexity II (Evaluating Problems) / Complexity / Macquarie University / 2019 Feb / Coursera
  138. Origin of Life / Complexity / Santa Fe Complexity Explorer / 2019 Sept / Santa Fe Institute
  139. Computational Social Science Method / Social Science / UC Davis / 2020 July / Coursera
  140. Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Ethics / AI / UC Davis / 2020 July / Coursera
  141. Network Analysis / Social Science / UC Davis / 2020 August / Coursera
  142. Computer Simulations / Computer / UC Davis / 2020 August / Coursera
  143. Interpersonal, Developmental, and Evolutionary Perspectives of the Mind / Games Theory / University of Colorado / 2020 August / Coursera
  144. Computational Social Science Capstone Project / Social Science / UC Davis / 2020 September / Coursera
  145. What is the “Mind” and what is Artificial Intelligence / AI / University of Colorado / 2020 September / Coursera
  146. Methods for Solving Problems / Psychology / University of Colorado / 2020 September / Coursera

Do you have an extreme upskilling story to share? Tell us at community@ricemedia.co.
If you haven’t already, follow RICE on Instagram, Spotify, Facebook, and Telegram.

Author

Terry Ng Senior staff writer