It’s my mum that first pointed me at Coursera. Yes, that’s right: my mother. That’s quite an admission for a software professional to make, I’m sure you’ll agree, but then my mother does spend more time listening to the radio than I do (and there’s been some recent coverage of Coursera on BBC Radio 4).
Despite this ignorance I’m actually very interested in the area of Massive Online Online Courses (MOOCs). A couple of years ago I talked about Khan Academy (which is not really classified as a MOOC, as such, but might be considered a comparable resource) and its potential for teaching relevant skills to people working in our industry. More recently, thinking it might help me get some good foundational skills for playing around with Arduino, etc., I signed up for one of the early edX classes (in this case from MITx) on Circuits and Electronics, although I didn’t end up getting very far with it.
A few weeks ago I tried again. I signed up for a Coursera class on Linear Algebra delivered by Philip Klein from Brown University. I chose this particular class as it’s another area I’ve been meaning to understand better and is of clear relevance to my day job. Another one I’m hoping to sign up for, at some point, is on computer vision and 3D reconstruction, but there are currently no sessions scheduled.
So far the linear algebra class has been an interesting experience: I’ve now listened to 3 weeks worth of lectures (some of which have been pretty heavy going) and submitted the required homework in Python. (Another reason I like this particular class is that it’s very “hands on” and emphasizes a more practical approach for teaching the subject… it’s also helping me improve my Python skills, which I’m very happy about.)
I very much like the fact you can submit homework via a Python script that reports whether it’s correct or not, right there and then. It seems you can resubmit as many times as you like up until the deadline, so I’ve been able to complete all the assignments successfully until now.
This way of providing education feels like the future to me (Coursera has been great, although I’m sure other resources such as edX and The Open University provide a comparable experience). I believe that education ought to be an ongoing – even life-long – process and shouldn’t be limited to those able to attend physical institutions. And while I certainly benefited from – and thoroughly enjoyed – my University years, the technical knowledge I acquired could easily have been imparted in other ways – I have no doubt at all about that.
It’ll be very interesting to see how things evolve over the coming years and how my children acquire the skills they need to survive in an increasingly complex world. Presumably using resources even their grandmother hasn’t heard of.