Monday, 31 December 2012

How to get the best out of online classes

MOOCs and online education have been one of the most revolutionary phenomenon to hit the web in 2012 (perhaps, ever!!). There are quite a few (for-profit and non-profit) companies like Coursera, Udacity, edX etc. offering online learning opportunities. Most of them provide a platform for the renowned universities of the world to offer their courses online, while others develop their own content in niche areas. If you are a avid learner, committed to life long learning, or just want to pick up a necessary skill for your job, head over to these sites and chances are that you will find a course that fits your requirements. My rough estimate is that there are more than 400 courses offered by these sites with topics covering everything under the sun. If you are in a hurry to find one, go to class-central.com which shows an aggregated list of all courses, when they are about to start and all other details. Highly recommended!!.

I want to use this post to talk about my experience I gained during completing the first course on coursera. To be honest, I could not complete the first course I started with. I had started with Functional Programming in Scala. However, I un-enrolled quickly as I could not keep up with it. The course was tougher than I expected and pressure of my day job prevented me from spending quality time on it. I fell behind and quickly became disengaged. However, this was a huge learning experience, some of which I am mentioning below
  1. Read the course page carefully: This is the most important page related to the course. Go through it carefully to understand what the class is all about, what you can expect to learn from it, what the prerequisites are for this course, recommended readings and other general instructions. Usually, there is a small video about the course on the page and I recommend that you watch it.
  2. Understand the prerequisites: If you are missing most of them, chances are that you will struggle during the course. Consider filling the gaps before the course starts. Sometimes, the course contains material that will help you fill some of them, but its better that you have a head start atleast.
  3. Set aside quality time: You will need time to go through the course material, usually presented in form of short videos. You will also require time to complete the assignments, quizzes and tests. Usually the course page will mention how many hours are required per week. Take that with a pinch of salt. You might need much more if you are short on the prerequisites. There is no point in overburdening yourself and burning out midway.
  4. Participate in forums/form local groups/meetups: Feeling engaged (and remaining so) in an online course is one of the biggest challenges. Thankfully, every online course provider recognizes it and provided tools such as discussion forums to address this. Coursera and other providers provide access to tools to make forming local groups and doing meetups easier.Use them to the fullest to derive maximum advantage.
  5. Choose carefully: Lastly, choose your course carefully. If the course adds value to your personal and professional life, chances are greater that you will complete it.
I hope that you will find the above post useful.

EDIT : Laura Cushing has written an excellent post on getting most out of Coursera, read it over here.