MOOC – Continuous Learning Adventure
Learning never ceases. For the uninitiated, MOOC’s stands for Massive Open Online Courses. The courses are offered for free by top institutions from online platform providers. There are varieties of online platform providers. The top ones are
·         Coursera  https://www.coursera.org
·         Udacity – https://www.udacity.com
·         Edx – https://www.edx.org
·         NovoEd- https://novoed.com
·         Iversity – https://iversity.org
I got introduced to this kind of learning with a course titled ‘Introduction to Databases’ by Jennifer Widom from Stanford University. This was around 18 months back. I kind of scraped through this course and later got a mail from Stanford University about the Machine Learning course by Andrew Ng on the Coursera platform. Andrew Ng is the founder of Coursera as well. Though I started well with this course, I faltered along the way, and flunked. However I got hooked onto this kind of learning and have passionately pursued this mode of learning in the last eighteen months. I have had fun with learning through these platforms and I am sharing my experiences here. I hope you find it useful.
Quality and Structure
The quality of any course offered on these platforms is truly amazing. I have had some inspiring and great teachers during my school, college days. I continue to revere them and I can say that for any professor who has taught on this platform. They are truly inspiring. The typical structure of any course is as follows
·         Runs for around 4 – 10 weeks
·         Each week has around 7-8 Videos running for around 15 – 20 minutes
·         Interactive Quiz during the video
·         Weekly Quiz and Assignments
·         Peer graded assignments
·         Mid-term and Final exams
·         Active forums and support staff where in you can discuss anything related to the subject being taught
Some of the courses have practitioner and expert track and you can choose to participate on either one of the tracks. On successful completion you will get a certificate of successful completion from the platform provider, typically signed by the professor who is offering the course. However there are caveats here especially since the certificate itself does not tantamount to any credits or any kind of accreditation from the University. In my personal view, learning is more important than certification, but getting the certificate does give you a sense of completion and any course I have taken up, I have worked to get that sense of completion.
Learning is fun

Quite frankly, learning has never been such fun. What made me rise early in the morning, or sneak up midnight, or lie about avoiding some social gatherings was the enthusiasm shown by the professors in explaining the subject. They typically maintain a perfect harmony in dealing with the breadth and depth of the subject. It does not matter if you want to understand face recognition at a high level or mathematically, opportunity exists.

Variety is the spice of life

You can learn anything from History, Philosophy to Hadoop. The typical variety offered currently is enough to fill up one’s appetite for learning. I have taken courses on Psychology, Genetics and even a course on ‘How to Reason and argue’! So if you want to learn about World History, or refresh your calculus to teach your kids or learn some python programming, opportunity exists.

Time

If you sign up for a course then you have to follow the dictum that your ‘Time is non-negotiable’. You will have to spend a minimum of 2-3 hours per week for one course. You need to find that either in your weekends, after office hours or in the early morning hours. If I look back and see why I could not complete a course, I attribute it to my inability to manage my own time. What has worked for me is as follows

·      Early Mornings on Saturday and Sunday (4:00 AM to 6:00 AM). I go to sleep after that. No one in my house knows that I am up-to something.
·         Evenings on Sunday (7 PM to 9 PM)
·         After 7:30 PM in office

Do get to a schedule that works for you, but do find and stick to a schedule. If you are traveling, download the videos on to your smart-phone and watch them when you get free time in travel or transit.

Commitment 
Before you sign up, you need to anticipate your work load, both personal and professional and then sign up.  You cannot start up with an attitude of let me enroll and then I will figure out. That will not work. Any kind of learning needs some serious commitment from your end. If you are not sure, do not sign up. I am saying this because, this is the attitude in which I went to some of the courses that I took up and I flunked on all of them.  
Participation 
Please do participate in all the course surveys. There are some 5 – 6 surveys done during the course and this gives some kind of feedback to the people who are conducting this. Since I get this kind of high quality course for free, I feel obliged to complete these surveys. Also please participate in the forums active and get engaged in threads of your liking. The discussions are an eye-opener. The variety of discussions helps you in appreciating the sheer diversity of thought and helps critical thinking. You are interacting with all kinds of people from all parts of the world and imagine how it could open up your thinking. It was a rude awakening to me and seeing the quality and depth of some of the threads has made me feel like a speck of dust! However, please note that active participations in forum require an additional hour from you every week. 
Do not bite more than you can chew 
I have been guilty of this. In my sheer enthusiasm I have taken up more courses than I can manage at a time and I did miserably on all of them. The best you can do justice is maximum of two at a time. If you are starting, start with one, drive it to completion, pat yourself on the back and then move on. Once you get into a rhythm, scale.

How did I fare? 
 

Course
University
Platform
Status
Comments
1.       Introduction to Databases
Stanford
Stanford
Initiated me into continuous online learning for life
2.Machine Learning
Stanford
Coursera
Easily the best technical content and delivery that I have come across. Too bad I could not cross the finishing line.
3.       Networked Life
University of Pennysylvania
Coursera
A fabulous course on how networks evolve in life and otherwise. I did a survey called ESN  (Effective Social Net worth) after this. I had very interesting results. Will write about it some other day.
4.       Networks: Friends, Money and Bytes
Princeton
Coursera
Explains the why of so many things like how Amazon bidding works and the math behind it. Got bogged down by the math.
5.       Human Computer Interaction
University of California
Coursera
Helped me understand the nuances of good interface development. It is definitely not about technology.
6.       Think Again: How to reason and argue
Duke
Coursera
Started on an interesting note. Could not endure with the length of the course.
7.       Pattern Oriented Software Architecture
Vanderbilt
Coursera
How reuse of best practices avoid costly mistakes.
8.       A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior
Duke
Coursera
The unconscious choices we make out of our biases unknown to us and how they affect us. I was proved empirically that I have been and could be wrong.
9.       Introduction to Data Science
University of Washington
Coursera
A primer to the emerging discipline
10.   Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence
Case Western Reserve
Coursera
Signature track costs you 49$ and well worth the money
11.   Introduction to Psychology
Toronto
Coursera
Amazingly taught course. Gave me so many insights about my own self. Felt very bad that I could not complete it.
12.   Crafting an Effective Writer: Tools of the trade
Mt. San Jacinto
Coursera
A relook at fundamentals and why they matter.
13.   Startup Engineering
Stanford
Coursera
Got me into hands on mode and has helped me stay there
14.   Software Defined Networking
Georgia Institute of Technology
Coursera
Could not go beyond 1st week owing to scheduling conflicts. Bad planning on my part
15.   Public Speaking
Washington
Coursera
Failed in the last minute owing to some un planned travel.  I could not complete the last assignment. Would have liked to complete it.
16.   Creativity , Innovation and Change
Pennsylvania
Coursera
Signature track costs you 49$ and well worth the money
17.   How to build a startup
Steve Blank
Udacity
Introduced the science of lean thinking and has made me an advocate of lean practices
18.   Designing a New Learning Environment
Stanford
NovoEd
Got me into some inclusive thinking and also had a token gift coming in from the organizers shipped all the way from Stanford for something we did as a group. A group which existed only virtually. I had not met any of them.
19.   Mobile Health without Borders
Stanford
NovoEd
Did not get to the start point
A percentage of 63.18 leave me at the middle of the bell curve when it comes to evaluating my own performance on continuous learning. I agree I am not an outlier but I think I have made a conscious beginning.
Tailpiece
There are various debates in the internet about the success and sustainability of MOOC’s.  There has been extensive research done by Professor Douglas Schmidt on this and he along with his peers published a excellent paper titled ‘The Past, Present and Future of MOOCs’ and the paper says it all. It can be downloaded from http://www.dre.vanderbilt.edu/~schmidt/PDF/ICSE-2014-MOOCS-v26.pdf. In my personal opinion MOOC’s have offered me a wonderful possibility and I wish any organization’s learning environment facilitates and encourages this kind of learning. I have believed that my growth is my responsibility and MOOC’s offer an interesting avenue in facilitating that kind of growth.
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Stay MOOC’ed
Have Fun
Zunder

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