Friday, April 5, 2013

My experience with Massive Open Online Courses

     I've been one of that 100,000 of people who signed up for Artificial Intelligence class by +Peter Norvig & +Sebastian Thrun and Machine Learning class by +Andrew Ng.

    Classes were really great and enjoyed them tremendously - more from practical point for me, because I knew most of the theory (I read book by Norvig before on AI, and Machine learning is field were I work) - but this classes gave an opportunity to actually write some code for example problems and see some results.

    This resulted in really fun semester for me - I was studying in my university (KhPI in Ukraine), had this two courses and also signed up for remote education in Yandex school of Data Analysis and I was working part time for Salford-Systems. Didn't have much time for social life, as you can guess :)

   When term finished I've got 97.5% at Artificial Intelligence and maximum at Machine Learning. Yandex school was pretty intense but I finished it too with 90-100% scores.

    For next term I've signed up and started attending number of courses on Udacity and Coursera - but I've never finished one there. Great influence there was that I switch to work full-time and had less spare time. On the other hand, there was so many courses that I wanted to attend (computer science, gamification, physics, economics, strategic planning) that I got really unfocused.

   Udacity is offering courses without deadlines, which even pushed to even harder procrastination - "I can watch this lesson next week", and then next week something else happend. On the other hand, Coursera was rushing with deadlines, and if you signed up for 3-4 courses at the same time and actually have a day job - you'll start missing deadlines. And as soon as that happend - motivation to continue sinks, you stop thinking about credit (hey, I missed dead line - so I won't get good credit anyway) and switch to more "Udacity" mode - "I can watch this next week" - and then stop happening after a while.

   From my short talk with a guy from Udacity on a PyData, I think this is not just my issue - variety of courses leads to dispersed attention and in result less finished courses overall.

   Of cause, Udacity and Coursera just recently started and do have only one year of experience. I'm sure we will definitely see new developments when MOOCs startups will figure out how to leverage huge amounts of data they are collecting right now and deliver better personalization or just better lessons\quizes\home works.

   This is was one of points of +Peter Norvig's keynote talk at PyData 2013 - that they just start to analyzing data collected on AI class, and how it can lead to enhancements in lectures themselves  or even in error descriptions in Python for novice users.

   As I started to think what would be a form that will allow to focus personal education from one size, allow to have flexible schedule but have deadlines as well, I emerged to something I call "continues flow of education". First you signup and specify your interests (social media can be leveraged to see what's you are interested as well), then based on this you will get a personalized queue of things to learn and do. For example, when you have 10-20 minutes (or better hour or two) you can go to your personal queue and do first thing that is on top - watch a new lesson, answer a quiz, do a part of homework. So system actually plans according to your interests what should be learned by you and then delivers this knowledge to you one piece after another - without really giving much  choice (unless you don't want to study something).

   Of cause, there still question about dead lines - they should be enforced but because you can't move to next thing until you finished previous home work - you don't have three concurrent home works to do - and it only depends on you - if you want to pass one homework earlier and move on to next one or study a bit more. On the other hand if you missed deadline - you still need to finish this homework to move on. Additionally, even if you month late with this home work you still will have one week on next homework - i.e. been late on thing doesn't produce chain effect like right now in Coursera.
  Another question - is that by jumping form one subject to another it may be hard to switch mind from one thing to another - but really this is what we were doing in high school and undergraduate - every day different subjects and you needed to do homework. Plus, switching back and force will actually reveal how good you are really learned subject.

  In conclusion, MOOCs already changing the world - see number of testimonials from children from poor countries where school education is pretty bad. This children now can study from best teachers in US, additionally thousands of people can just go and learn additional subjects that will help them with their day-to-day job. This is time of extensive learning for MOOCs startups themselves as well about user behavior and about best form for delivering knowledge and helping people to put it down in their minds.