Course Review of Climate Change: Learning for Action by Terra.do

This Earth Day, I graduated from the 12-week online course known as Climate Change: Learning for Action (LFA, for short), hosted by Terra.do.

Course Review of Climate Change: Learning for Action by Terra.do
https://www.terra.do/climate-change-learning-for-action/

This Earth Day, I graduated from the 12-week online course known as Climate Change: Learning for Action (LFA, for short), hosted by Terra.do. I'd heard about Terra.do and their flagship course through a climate-focused group at Google, and though I couldn't find many reviews online beyond the testimonials on their website, I decided to take the chance and enroll. After all, if I wasn't getting anything out of it in the first few weeks, they'd let me drop out and get my money back.

With the course now behind me, I can see I made the right choice to enroll. I write this review now to help you, good people of the Internet, to decide for yourselves whether LFA is worth your time. Though I'll lightly touch on the course contents, the main focus of this review isn't on the LFA syllabus, since that information can be found on the Terra.do website. Rather, I write about:

  1. Who the course might be suited for
  2. What the course did well
  3. What could’ve been better
  4. The key benefits, to me

P.S. If you decide to enroll in LFA, you can get a 25% discount (or so they tell me) by using my referral code.

Rewind: Where my climate journey began

Environmentalism and climate activism have been important to me ever since I learned about the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest in 3rd grade. As a child, I was so moved by what we had done in class that I decided to fundraise by organizing mini "festivals" for my family members and charging them an equally mini fee to play festival games I'd built myself. All of the proceeds of my games would be stored in a fund my parents managed (probably a bunch of coins in a drawer somewhere) and eventually donated towards the conservation of the Amazon Rainforest.

After the festival-organizing days of my childhood, I wasn't a particularly active friend to the environment. I made some eco-friendly personal choices after college, like becoming vegetarian in 2020, making donations to climate-focused nonprofits, and educating myself ad-hoc with books and podcasts (see Drawdown, Eating Animals, and How to Save a Planet). I also got a job at Google, a company with a relatively ambitious sustainability plan. Still, it didn't feel like much; certainly not enough. Looking at climate-induced destruction across the world, from wildfires to mudslides, hurricanes to droughts,  I felt an increasingly urgent compulsion to do more.

I enrolled in Terra.do's LFA to start figuring out what "doing more" should look like for me. I hoped that, by gaining a more comprehensive understanding of climate change and existing solutions, I might prepare myself to become a more impactful change agent. At the very least, I would learn more about the state of climate change and build a network for a potential future in climate work. As you'll see, my hopes were well met overall.

Who LFA is suited for

All of the students in my cohort shared a couple things in common: We all had at least a basic understanding of climate change, and we were willing to invest time each week into learning more. Beyond that, it's tough to generalize across who LFA is made for. Frankly, the diversity of goals and backgrounds was impressive. Broadly speaking, the people in my cohort came into the course with one or two of the following goals:

  1. transitioning to a new job in climate,
  2. bringing a climate lens to a current job, and/or
  3. pursuing climate action outside of work.

While a majority of students committed the 10+ hours a week needed to earn the course certificate, some had more time to dive deeper into each class and to attend all of the guest lectures, while others spent only as much time as they could spare. In this way, the course is well suited to anyone who is eager to learn and willing to spare some time. If you don't care about earning a certificate, you have all the time in the world; the course materials are available to students indefinitely after the course ends, so there's always time to revisit class slides or view recordings.

Even more seasoned climate activists seemed to get something out of the course, whether through meaningful interactions with other students in lab discussions and in the Terra.do Slack workspace, or by gaining a more holistic view of climate challenges and potential solutions through classes and guest speaker engagements. The class materials might have presented redundant information to some, but those materials were just a piece of the overall value pie 🥧.

The course is especially well suited to those, like me, who learn well within a structure. Particularly, a structure with lots of optional tangents and deep dives. Plenty of the resources and information shared in LFA could be found online, but Terra.do does the difficult task of curating the information within a cohesive picture, and distilling some of the more convoluted topics into something more easily understood. Further, the assignments and lab discussions built in a level of accountability and helped to make the new information sticky.

What LFA did right

Especially considering Terra.do has only been around since 2020, they got a lot right with this course. They may even achieve their mission of getting 100 million people to work on solving climate change by 2030, if we can account for the butterfly effect their teachings will have.

Class materials 📕

The bread and butter of LFA was the classes – 20 in total, designed as slideshows built into the course portal, each taking a couple hours on average to complete. The classes are well designed to keep your attention. Visually, they make the information easy to digest, and they include a variety of content types: a mix of text slides, videos, links to external studies and articles, quizzes, and visuals (including a much-appreciated cute animal pic at the end of each class 🦦). For time-constrained students, they do a great job of delineating between external links that are required reading vs. optional side quests.

A huge plus here is that the class materials are updated frequently. As the climate space is ever changing, and our understanding of climate science continues to grow, the course creators keep up. As an example, I was in the middle of LFA when a new IPCC report dropped (IPCC AR6 WGII). Not only did we discuss its findings in our lab discussion and over Slack, but it was also referenced in the next week's class slides. Terra.do isn't messing around.

Assignments 📝

Over the course of the 12 weeks, there were 5 assignments – 2 group assignments, 3 individual. I found this to be just the right number, and the right balance between collaboration and individual work. Further, I thought each assignment was well constructed to thoughtfully engage students while allowing for flexibility in direction. In particular, the individual assignments were designed to accommodate students' different goals for the course. Depending on what you came to LFA to achieve, you could choose a path within the assignment that aligned with those goals. The assignments challenged me to think about what impact I could have on climate, how specifically I might start to achieve that impact, and what difficulties I might need to overcome in order to succeed. In this way, the assignments were also pivotal offsets to the information overload from some of the classes. The prompts helped me to focus my attention, process the information I'd learned up to that point, and verbalize a plan for how I could apply that information in the form of action.

The assignments were helpful in and of themselves, but instructors also provided useful comment feedback on each assignment. It offered great food for further thought, and helped me to address flaws in the ways I'd been framing some problems. My instructor's feedback was thoughtful and showed that she gave my assignments due consideration, challenging me further without detracting from the value of my work.

Here is an example assignment submission to give you an idea of the sort of challenges involved: Assignment 1: It's 2040 and we solved climate change. This first assignment was the broadest of them, and more of a visioning exercise. Many of the later assignments were more research-focused, and a bit more narrowly defined.

Labs 🧪

Every LFA cohort is divided into multiple groups which meets for a 90-minute lab every week (or 60 minutes, if that's all you're able to commit time towards). Multiple lab groups were created to accommodate availabilities, which students had sent prior to the start of the course, to ensure that everyone would be assigned to a lab that worked for their schedule. Labs were also recorded and shared for later viewing, in case students couldn't attend their session in a given week.

The quality of the lab depended in part on the instructor – each lab group was led by a different person, with varying levels of teaching experience and different backgrounds working on climate. My instructor was incredibly kind and knowledgable, and facilitated discussions well, though she was less experienced with teaching and her class recaps weren't the most engaging.

What I found to be the most valuable component of the lab were the guided discussions and breakout rooms to dive deeper into class materials and current events. It was encouraging and inspiring to engage with and hear from a group of people that could empathize with climate anxieties, share in celebrations of climate wins, and together analyze different aspects of climate change. Further, because the members of the lab group were geographically spread out, the discussions would take on a global context, where each student could contribute information from their local climate situation.

Diversity of the cohort 🌏

Speaking of geographically spread out students, one of my favorite aspects of the course was the diversity of the cohort. Not only did students represent countries all over the globe, but their career/life backgrounds were greatly varied. At the start of the course, students were invited to introduce themselves over Slack, making it clear just how many different areas of expertise and interests were embodied by the cohort. Altogether, it made for some especially interesting discussions, a wider scope of perspectives, and more variation in resources that were shared amongst the group.

The diversity of the cohort also affirmed my suspicion that this would be a great network to have access to for a potential future in climate work. Between my cohort and previous ones still present in the Slack community (not to mention all the cohorts to come), all the bases are covered by Terra.do fellows. And when you're not sure who to talk to for a specific need, the Slack community as well as the Terra.do course instructors are immensely helpful in making connections. If I have climate-related questions or project ideas in the future, I feel confident that the Terra.do community would be a great help to me.

Guest speakers 🗣

About once a week, Terra.do invites a guest speaker to give an hour-long climate talk (or "keynote lecture") to the current LFA cohort, usually open to other Terra.do community members as well. It isn't required to attend all guest talks in order to earn the course completion certificate, but they were such interesting guests that I wanted to attend most talks anyway. To make the talks more engaging, the last 15 minutes or so were typically dedicated to answering student-submitted questions.

The speakers were consistently well-selected, each one having done fascinating work in climate. Not all of the talks stuck with me, but one that stood out was by Dr. Chip Fletcher. It was a bit of a reckoning for many of us, I think; just the right balance of annihilating our hope for the future and then giving some of that hope back to us, with an added sense of obligation. You can watch that talk on Youtube – I highly recommend it. Some of the other guest speakers included Tony Lent, the Co-Founder of Capital4Climate, Barbara Haya, the director of the Berkeley Carbon Trading Project, and Dr. Saleemul Huq, renowned scientist and COP negotiator.

Course portal 💻

Terra.do LFA classes, assignments, calendars, and additional resources are consolidated in a single portal. While there were some areas for improvement I'll mention later, for the most part the portal was an immensely useful course companion which made it simple to track my progress and access course content.

Terra.do LFA portal as of May 2022

Quick caveat: Terra.do is planning to release an app soon, which may replace or at least supplement some of the functionality of the current course portal.

Receiving feedback ‍👂

Just as they delivered great feedback on my assignments, Terra.do is great at encouraging and receiving feedback from students. They take feedback very seriously, and it shows in how sophisticated and well-organized the course is despite being less than 2 years old. Every class ends with a brief [optional] survey, and every slide contains a feedback link for thoughts or suggestions that come up along the way. They also send out an end-of-course survey to improve for future cohorts.

For what it's worth, I got confirmation that they actually act on feedback when, after I submitted slide-specific feedback, one of the instructors reached out to me to thank me for the feedback, add some clarity, and assure me that they would update the slides for the next cohort. Most of the feedback is anonymous, so they wouldn't reach out to you directly, but this just goes to show you that they do indeed take feedback very seriously.

Continued learning 📚

I mentioned it earlier, but it's worth reiterating here: the class materials remain accessible to students even after the course ends, meaning you can note down materials you want to return to and circle back to them as time allows.

There's also endless room for continued learning with the support of the Terra.do Slack community. There are channels for topic-specific discussions, for local Terra communities to arrange meetups, for sharing climate wins, for posting climate-related job openings, and more! There is always something new to learn from the amazing Terra.do community.

What could've been better

If you've read up to this point, you can tell I found Terra.do's LFA quite valuable and well worth the investment on the whole. Still, the course is in its infancy and not without flaws. I wouldn't call any of these flaws dealbreakers. In fact, some of them just felt like necessary tradeoffs for a course like this – more struggle than flaw, perhaps. In any case, here are some of the less rewarding challenges I ran into through the course:

  1. Information overload. 🤯 The classes were so full of information, and so many possible deep dives, I found it hard to pick and choose what to pursue and what to put off for later. Further, I found it hard to know how to act in response to the information – there isn't necessarily a "call to action" for a lot of the problems the classes pose, even though we all enrolled because we would like to help. When there are so many issues within climate change, and so many potential solutions, you can feel helpless as you read about them, wondering if this particular problem or solution is something you should devote any time towards (and if you decided to devote the time, where would you start??).

    On the other hand, I really appreciated the breadth of the course and that it established a baseline understanding across the board so I could pick and choose where to dive deeper. After all, the course intends to impart an understanding of climate change so that students can then decide how to become an advocate with that knowledge. There's a huge challenge in navigating the state of climate change, and Terra.do did well at organizing the information into something that could be acted upon, even if it rendered me overloaded with information at times.
  2. Message overload. Just as there was some information overload in the courses, I found there to be too much activity to keep up with in the Slack community. There are so many channels you can join depending on your interests, in addition to the more general channels and the cohort- or lab-group-specific channels. Even being selective about which special-interest channels I joined, I found myself quickly falling behind in every channel. New threads were started and resources shared seemingly constantly. With the ever-growing Terra.do community, I expect this will only become a more congested space, diminishing the utility of the resources by giving community members decision paralysis.

    Thankfully, there are already some efforts in place to help with this, with more on the way. First, Terra.do leaders put guidelines into place for Slack use to minimize disorganization. Second, leaders send out email digests, which help to consolidate highlights. This includes overall Terra.do community announcements and key resources, as well as lab group-specific announcements sent by your instructor. Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, Terra.do is preparing to release a new app which, among other purposes, is meant to improve course communications and ultimately replace Slack for community messaging.
  3. Course portal UX. Nothing about the portal was horrible, just mildly painful at times. For one, the group assignments were somewhat challenging to collaborate on within the portal. I found the UX to be a bit too simple for collaborative purposes, and instead opted to use a separate Google Doc that would make it easier to do things like make concurrent edits and leave comments on collaborators' work. In the same vein, the course portal did not provide a super intuitive or advanced way to take notes, and so again I found myself using an external doc instead. Not at all a dealbreaker, but a minor frustration.

Key benefits

If I had to summarize the primary benefits Terra.do: Learning for Action provided to me, it would be these:

  1. A stronger understanding of climate science, the various complications of the climate problem, and the potential solutions from a political, economic, technical, and behavioral perspective.
  2. Some mixed feelings about our ability as a society to overcome the challenges ahead, particularly in light of the political response I've seen in the U.S. to climate proposals.
  3. A diverse network of inspiring, knowledgable, climate-conscious people.
  4. A plan for myself as an agent of climate action.

I'm eager to continue on my climate journey, and I attribute a lot of that to Terra.do. Despite my mixed feelings about our ability to avoid the worst of climate change, I feel better equipped to do my part, and I consider that a win. I have a long way to go, but I'm a lot further than where I started.


“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
― Aldous Huxley


Additional Resources

Highlights of resources shared in LFA

LFA introduced me to some pretty awesome websites and YouTube channels that I'd love to share with you. Whether you want to understand what sort of resources LFA references, or just want to dip your toes into climate education before committing more fully, here is a [very tiny, somewhat scattered] subset of resources shared in LFA:

Free money

In case you missed it, here's my referral code to get a 25% discount to enroll in LFA.