Why Iron Man and da Vinci Would Love MOOCs

Leonardo da Vinci

Growing up, I looked up to Iron Man. A lot. Obsessively, actually.

Why? Not because he was on T.V. or in movies. Not even because he was a Superhero.

I looked up to Iron Man because he was a self made hero. He wasn’t born with superpowers or a mutation that gave him abilities, he simply used his greatest strength (sheer intelligence and creativity) to give himself what nature hadn’t and used it to help people. It was the initiative he took even when he didn’t have to tBANGKOK - OCTOBER 16: Iron Man 3 figurine display of Tony Starkhat was inspiring to me.

Alas, Iron Man is a fictional character whose characteristics are exaggerated for drama. People just aren’t that smart or that heroic. Heroes don’t need to compare to Iron Man to be great, though. They just need to be regular people who use their abilities to become influencers. Here are 5 real people who reached their levels of success because of their own initiative, inspiration, and hard work – who taught themselves to be amazing at what they did.

Rabindranath Tagore

File:Rabindranath Tagore.jpgTagore was a Nobel Laureate who was highly regarded in his field of Literature. He had some formal education in law, but left his studies repeatedly in favor of English literature and music. He independently developed his expertise in the arts and returned home to India to become one of the most lauded Indian artists in history.


Ernest HemingwayFile:Ernest Hemingway, Paris, 1924.jpg

Although Hemingway was enchanted by the English language throughout high school, he left for World War I  shortly after graduating. He returned a hardened soldier and never ended up going to college (but went on to also win a Nobel prize). Instead, he became a journalist and began traveling. After getting married, he ended up in Paris where he met some of the city’s finest artists and writers and took the initiative to build his skills himself with just their guidance and a mountain of books.


Benjamin Franklin

Born to a poor family in Massachusetts, Franklin’s parents did not have the money needed for their son’s formal education. Instead, he grew up a curious child with a wide array of interests and a determination to become successful. He funneled these as an apprentice to his brother (a printer) and later as a young entrepreneur at 15 when he the colonies’ first independent newspaper. Eventually these interests were channeled into politics, and the rest is history.


Frederick Douglas

Douglas was born as a slave, Fredrick Douglass by j4p4n - Former slave turned amazing abolitionist public speaker, this wonderful oratory master deserves being remembered by history!  and so formal education was out of the question. He did, however, live with tolerant owners at the age of 12 and began learning the alphabet and basic reading skills. This was as far as the social norms allowed him to go, but he continued to teach himself to read and write in secrecy. Stubborn by nature and a born leader, Douglas went on to teach fellow slaves to read and write as well. This eventually led to the abolitionist sentiments he is famous for today.


Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci Self-portrait Outline by Merlin2525 - An Inkscape SVG Outline Bitmap Trace of Leonardo da Vinci famous self-portrait from the public domain image found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leonardo_self.jpgDa Vinci’s formal training was as a painter, having apprenticed with some of the best of the
best. With a painter’s eye, da Vinci began applying his creativity and curiosity to other subjects including anatomy, geology, botany, and even music. Not only did his independent learning quench his curiosity, but it made his art more realistic and allowed him to use his creativity outside of the canvas as an inventor.



So do you want to be like Iron Man? Or Leonardo da Vinci? Well take a good solid look at what they had in common: they were both self-taught geniuses with little formal training and a lot of curiosity, creativity, and determination.

Become a self-taught genius yourself with MOOCs and online learning. Start your To-Learn List and find all the classes that will help you turn into a superhero. Or one of the greatest artists and scientists of all time. Either one would be pretty cool.