Being a Productive Learner (Or Entrepreneur)

Below are a series of infographics from Funders and Founders on how to be a more productive entrepreneur. However, I think it is worth pointing out that the tips in them are applicable to students, self-directed learners, starter-upers, and everyone in between.

I saw this and thought it was remarkably useful for people who create self-directed learning plans. No matter if you are sludging through 5 concurrent MOOCs or are making your way through the last of finals week in college we can all  learn to simplify our lives to maximize productivity.


Start off with having a SIMPLE existence. Seriously. Wear a few outfits that you don’t need to put a lot of thought into, and get rid of the clutter. Get rid of the crap that takes up space in your room, desk, life and brain. Say goodbye to the people who suck up your time and energy. Stop thinking you need to be perfect (nobody really expects you to be!) and turn off your dang phone every now and again!


The most productive people get up ridiculously early. They do. Just accept that and try to emulate it. Here are some of the best ways to get up early. Plan an exciting breakfast that will get you out of bed. Schedule your most important plans in the morning so you wake up thinking about how to kick-start your day. Read a book the night before and turn off the phone. Seriously. The phone. Turn it off! And drink water before going to bed and again after waking up. If you are well hydrated you are more energetic and alert.


Start every day right. Start with the hardest tasks and get them done. Visualize the type of day you want to have. Work out when you get up. Even if it just stretching, getting blood and oxygen coursing through you will do wonders to wake you up. And finally, ask yourself how happy you are doing what you are about to do. If you don’t love what you do, it is a lot harder to get up every morning to do it.


The best rule of working fast is to just start and keep moving. Momentum is easier to build when you are already moving. So just start on whatever you need to do. It will train you to stop procrastinating and you can make a habit of being a more productive person and getting more things done. Start with quantity and then revise to hit quality. Again, expecting perfection the first round through only worked for Tesla. For the rest of us, we have to deal with just getting the thoughts flowing. And again, cut down on clutter and you will be WAY better off.


Finally, we come to thinking faster. We all need to be able to think on our feet. First: be honest with everything you say. Don’t try to “pitch” to everyone around you or you’ll never be trusted. Be straight with people. If you don’t know- say it! If you don’t have time to do something- don’t accept the task! Don’t try to spend too much time formulating your sentence. Let silence be. It’s only awkward if you make it. Trust your gut and challenge your memory regularly. And always remember that being creative or knowledgeable comes from being able to store vast amounts of information in your brain.

There is no better way to use this new-found productivity than testing it out with expanding your brain! Accredible is the perfect way to learn whatever you want for nearly every subject. I challenge you to take a MOOC and record your learning experience as you try to apply these tips to be more effective. Happy learning!



Siouxsie Downs: Siouxsie Downs is the CEO of IQ Co-Op, and co-founder of Farnsworth Downs Technology. She is an Uncollege alumni, stopped out of CU Boulder’s Engineering Physics program and is continuing her education in Nuclear Engineering. She hosts a radio show, has worked on humanitarian engineering, and is currently designing nuclear reactors in the Rocky Mountains. She plays roller derby (Atom THORasher), rides motorcycles, and was named after a 1980s punk rock singer and is an all around geek.



8 Crazy Things You Didn’t Know About: Nikola Tesla

Alright, so most of you know about Tesla. At least I hope you know who Tesla was. Seriously, if the Oatmeal likes Tesla enough to save his original lab and write a glowing comic about him, I really hope you have at least heard of the guy. (Note: if anyone EVER asks you “Tesla or Edison?” the correct answer is ALWAYS “Tesla, duh” because only Tesla people will ask that.)

He was part mad-scientist, part poet, part comedian and all-around bad-a**, kind of like the Wozniak of his time (with Edison assuming the role of Steve Jobs). He worked on doomsday devices, free electricity for all, lightbulbs, and the famous Tesla Coil.

He was also known for falling madly in love with a pigeon in his later years. But, there are a few things I would venture to guess that you are far less familiar with about our Serbian god of lightning. Here is a list of my 8 favorite random facts about Tesla.


His mental capacity to imagine (germs and 3D images).

Tesla was a COMPLETE germophobe. He barely survived a bout of cholera as a teen, so he was known for his crazy high hygienic standards. He also had a photographic memory and could imagine things in 3D. If there is one thing I would attribute to his ability to be such a visionary, it would be his imagination. As a young child, he had vivid nightmares that were somewhat debilitating, and this was how he coped with them.

But his imagination was truly something of a marvel. He would invent and test all sorts of things in his mind before ever putting pen to paper or creating a physical model of what he wanted to build. That is a rare gift.

He despised pearls

Along with being a germaphobe, the man also despised jewelry. but in particular hated pearls. He was known for making his secretary go home for the day when she wore pearls in to the office and refused to speak to women wearing them. He also hated touching other peoples’ hair… But the pearl jewelry hatred is kind of strange. Perhaps it is because he knew that pearls are layers of hardened oyster mucus around grains of sand…

He was very concerned with his appearance. He believed to be successful, one must LOOK successful. He ate dinner with white gloves, wore tailored suits, and always had his hair properly styled. It is not known if his hatred of pearls was because of aesthetics alone, or because of one of his other many quirks.

He was friends with celebrities

Tesla was friends with some of the most influential members of society during the height of the Gilded Age. His friends included conservationists of the Sierra Club, financiers, writers (like Mark Twain), and politicians. Although, later in life his fame lessened significantly, he was considered in high regard by many who met him.

He “shook the poop” out of Mark Twain

One of the times Tesla was playing with his high frequency oscillator (improperly referred to as an “earthquake machine”) he dared Mark Twain to stand on it. Twain, whom he was friends with through their gentlemen’s club, was known for having digestive problems. So Tesla instructed Twain to stand on the oscillator and he turned it on. After about 90 seconds, Twain jumped off and ran for the facilities.

He and Edison were NOT sworn enemies (but they were rivals)

This is one of the more interesting things about the Tesla/Edison rivalry. They didn’t HATE each other. In a nutshell, Edison did not take Tesla very seriously in their earlier years. There was the well known debacle of Edison refusing to pay Tesla for some of his early research, which is true. Tesla did go on record to say some unsavory things as to the scientific method of Edison, whom he still regarded as a good businessman.

However, there is so much more history than that. Think of it like Steve Jobs/Bill Gates. It’s a love/hate relationship. Edison wanted to hear Tesla speak but didn’t want to be spotted. When Tesla noticed him in the crowd, he instructed everyone to give Edison a standing ovation.

Conversely,  when there were fires in Tesla’s labs, Edison gave him access to lab space so he could continue to do research. Later on there was a lot more mutual respect than most people realize.

He was really funny

Tesla was a genuinely funny guy. In private correspondence, he referred to the poet Kipling as “Inkspiller Kipling” after being less than enthused with his choice of hotel for him and Tesla to dine at. He had a quirky sense of humor and was overall quite soft-spoken, and in spite of some of his tendencies to be cold to others whom he did not, for whatever reason, agree with- he was regarded highly by all who met him.

He came up with the idea for smartphone technology in 1901

In yet another example of Tesla having great ideas that were never put into practice, he thought of the idea of smartphone technology in 1901. He refused to create any physical model or design that he could not “test and refine” in his imagination first. He was staunchly against inefficient methods of research by making revisions to designs and models. So there were many brilliant ideas he never created because of this.

Smartphones were one of them. He described to his investor, J.P. Morgan the idea of a handheld device for individuals that could allow for instantaneous stock quotes and communication by taking data, encrypting it and assigning a frequency for it to be received and unencrypted by the other user. This was one of the few ideas that really put Tesla to a pause.

He was born in a lightning storm

In Serbia, Tesla was born in the middle of a lightning storm. The midwife was worried and claimed it to be a bad omen. “This child will be a child of darkness” she was cited as saying.

To which his mother shook her head and replied “No. This child will be a child of light.”




Siouxsie Downs: Siouxsie Downs is the CEO of IQ Co-Op, and co-founder of Farnsworth Downs Technology. She is an Uncollege alumni, stopped out of CU Boulder’s Engineering Physics program and is continuing her education in Nuclear Engineering. She hosts a radio show, has worked on humanitarian engineering, and is currently designing nuclear reactors in the Rocky Mountains. She plays roller derby (Atom THORasher), rides motorcycles, and was named after a 1980s punk rock singer and is an all around geek.





MOOCs and Employers: an Unlikely Relationship

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We go to school to get in to a good college. We go to college to get a degree. And we get a degree to show off to future employers that we have learned the necessary skills to function within the capacity of the job that we are applying for. Go to school to get the good jobs; the jobs we need to pay off our insurmountable student debt. Wouldn’t it be far easier to just surpass the degree altogether and gain the knowledge and skills needed to fit with what it is we want to do for a job and to accomplish this for a fraction of the price and a portion of the time?

Perhaps this is the new niche of MOOCs. The degree is obsolete. It may not be the place of MOOCs to replicate the same process of universities, with a large chunk of the knowledge that the students gain being nothing more than trivial “game show knowledge” by the time they are out in the workforce. Increasingly, employers are reporting the same problem: graduates are overqualified and underskilled. Perhaps MOOCs can bridge the gap between the employer and the student by targeting training for what skills the employer is actually looking for.

This could work in a mutually beneficial relationship between the MOOCs, the employer and the user. Employers can contact the MOOC to explain what skills they are looking for (Python, HTML 5, Basic Electronics and Magnetism Physics, East Asian History) and the MOOC provider can help to create a screening examination for prospects. Using this knowledge, the MOOC can also gear their courses to specific career-based skills for those looking to gain new knowledge. People looking for skills applicable to specific careers can search through the MOOCs that apply to their ideal career, and they can learn exactly what their employers (or companies in their industry) are looking for. MOOC sites can then screen for the skills the employers are looking for.

Companies could also start having their employees use MOOCs as additional educational resources. If somebody wanted to get a promotion to a management position, they could simply pay for the MOOC courses in, say, entrepreneurship, business practices, or other applicable courses that may be similar to an MBA program. Employees would then learn the necessary skills to advance in their companies for a fraction of the cost and with more flexibility. This would be especially helpful for large corporations that operate over several states that have large-volume hiring trends.

Now, what if some kid, maybe 19 years old, was ranked 1 of 122,934 people in his programming class? Clearly he is the top candidate from this class. Why not use this to signal high-profile employers that he was a promising prospect? Perhaps one of the most important aspects of MOOCs that make them a valid source to employers is being able to showcase talent through the courses, and for talented prospects to flag possible employers of their skills.

If the point of a degree is to get a job, then maybe it is high time we examined why we place so much emphasis on the paper degree from the brick and mortar school. If MOOCs can replace a degree in terms of signaling education, knowledge, and skills, then we might actually get some creative disruption in traditional education and workplace credentials. There is no need to make a better degree. Nor a cheaper degree. We need a better way to show skills and to identify talent. Perhaps this is why sites like Accredible are so valuable. You can go and document EVERYTHING that you have learned and present it on a paper resume in a way that is nearly unparalleled. On top of that, you can have access to hundreds of different MOOCs across several platforms so you can find exactly what you want to learn.

Head over to Accredible and start showcasing your talents and hard work today. Happy learning!




Siouxsie Downs: Siouxsie Downs is the CEO of IQ Co-Op, and co-founder of Farnsworth Downs Technology. She is an Uncollege alumni, stopped out of CU Boulder’s Engineering Physics program and is continuing her education in Nuclear Engineering. She hosts a radio show, has worked on humanitarian engineering, and is currently designing nuclear reactors in the Rocky Mountains. She plays roller derby (Atom THORasher), rides motorcycles, and was named after a 1980s punk rock singer and is an all around geek.


DIY Diploma: How to Use Accredible to Record Your Self-directed Learning Journey


I left college a little over a year ago. Continuing to learn on my own has been an amazing and crazy experience, but at times also very frustrating. Because I work on highly technical projects that require knowledge of many different topics, I have to learn efficiently. Sites like Accredible as well as MOOCs offered by reputable colleges and covering almost every subject area have allowed myself to successfully pursue my interests outside of college.

Since we are all in the process of continually learning, we need to find new and better ways to SHOW what we are learning so investors, schools, employers, or anyone else can look at the work and realize just how much effort went into continued education.

I have compiled a short guide to using Accredible to help record your self-directed learning ED-venture, and I sincerely hope you find it as useful as I have.

1a. Create a Notebook

Alright, I’m not sure if I can properly explain how important this is. First off: get a notebook! It can be a moleskin, composition book, spiral or fancy binded one… I don’t care. Just make yourself a notebook. A DaVincian notebook.

Write down observations, questions, ideas, schematics, connections, everything that can be created on paper should be documented in the notebook.

From there you can distill what it is you found to be the most useful and can add that to a digital notebook that you can access from anywhere. Accredible can be really helpful with this because it can help you organize your notes with screenshots, videos, and it can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Even better, you can share it with others and you can turn your research into a collaborative learning process (also mentioned in point 2).

1b. Create Everything Else

This is the easy part of making your own diploma program. Write down what you are interested in, why you are interested in it, how you can go about working on the things you are interested in, and just start figuring out what you can physically do/make/create that is relevant to understanding what you are interested in learning or in utilizing the information you have gathered about what you are learning. Have a calendar, timeline, mind map (more on that later), and embrace the attitude of “always be creating”.

2. Play School

Know that sites like Accredible are a HUGE asset because you can keep tabs on what it is that you have been learning and you can document the things you have done in and out of the classroom.

Look at “structured” (read: university 4 year programs) degrees. Look at the types of things they are expecting you to know by the time you graduate. Figure out what you want to keep and what can be tossed. From here, you can create an individualized learning plan. If there is anything that interests you, look for a MOOC in that topic. If you want to see what connections there are between nanorobotics and polymer sciences, try doing a keyword search and you may find some introductory classes through MITx or other OpenCourse classes that you can take and document your work on. The possibilities are really nearly endless.

Keep in mind that you can meet up with other individuals to share progress, document work, spitball ideas, and create an overall learning community. Having different interests is OK. You can learn new things from them, and teaching others the information you are learning will make you retain it better.

You can make your own courses on Accredible too! I am doing this right now with nuclear engineering. You can upload problems, notes, lectures, books, PDFs, checklists, and anything else that you would use in a standard curriculum. This is by far my favorite aspect about the site and one I found to be immeasurably helpful.

3. Look for Connections

This is where you can get out the poster board and go wild. I made a mind map that covered my entire wall. It covered everything from hobbies, interests, education, and a to-learn list. These can be pretty free-form. Just make sure that it is useful for you, makes connections, and you can see a 10,000 foot view of where you are, where you are trying to go, and the common threads between here and there. As you continue finding connections on what you want to do and learn, you can make note of those.

4. Earn Your Salt (Intern)

Now that you have hopefully picked up a few ideas along the way, you might have an idea of what practical knowledge you would like to learn more about. Leverage skills you already have to get an unpaid (offer unpaid, usually you can work your way up to paid intern or employee easily) internship to learn more new skills. You will grow your network, skill set, horizons, resume, and just about everything else you can think of. There is almost no better way to exercise knowledge you have gained than by applying it in the real world. Internships are the best method for this because they DON’T expect you to know everything, but are more than willing to teach you. Ask businesses if they are looking for unpaid interns that want to learn new skills. You will be pleasantly surprised.

5. Learn By Immersion

This is vitally important if you are working in a STEM field. Start reading technical papers and periodicals that are WAY over your head. Really, it’s ok. Read on a wide range of topics that may or may not be related to what you are interested in. Start recognizing common ideas, terminology, and concepts. Think of it like learning Spanish by being sent in Mexico and left to your own devices. It will be a faster and better retained knowledge than if you were to sit there and regurgitate the same things over and over again and never getting out of your educational comfort zone. Stop doing that! If you aren’t worried you are missing a few things, you aren’t mentally pushing yourself hard enough.

Now continue to read around, take more MOOCs, record more things in your notebooks, then revisit the old textbooks and papers. You’ll see that your comprehension improves considerably the more you do this. Remember, ALWAYS take notes in your notebook.

6. Talk With People Smarter Than You

Finally, it amazes me that more people don’t go looking to be proved fools more often. Here is a bit of advice: if you want to take the route of being in control of your education, get over any ego you may have associated with being “right”. It will only slow your progress. Jump in with both feet and learn all that you can. Invite mentors and peers to coffee and pitch them crazy ideas you have in your notebook. Ask them questions. Record interesting things they say in your notebook. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.

Alright, so this should give you a really quick overview of some of the most important components of being in charge of your own education. You can make a DIY diploma about whatever you are interested in. Document it on Accredible (make your own course feature). And always be adding to it. Share it with others, and create a community of involved learners. It’s not terribly difficult, and many times is far more rewarding than if you were to blankly stare at a lecture hall for 4 years in a traditional school.

So feel free to head over to Accredible and get started researching and documenting your progress on what you really care about!  Happy learning!




Siouxsie Downs: Siouxsie Downs is the CEO of IQ Co-Op, and co-founder of Farnsworth Downs Technology. She is an Uncollege alumni, stopped out of CU Boulder’s Engineering Physics program and is continuing her education in Nuclear Engineering. She hosts a radio show, has worked on humanitarian engineering, and is currently designing nuclear reactors in the Rocky Mountains. She plays roller derby (Atom THORasher), rides motorcycles, and was named after a 1980s punk rock singer and is an all around geek.