Sunday, December 9, 2012

MOOCs have exploded!

About a year and two months ago, Stanford University taught three classes online: Intro to Databases, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence. I took two of those classes (I did not feel I had time to take Artificial Intelligence), and found them very valuable. The success of those programs led to the development of at least two companies in a new area of online education: Coursera and Udacity. In the meantime, other efforts have been started (I’m thinking mainly edX, but there are others as well), and now many universities are scrambling to take advantage of either the framework of these companies or other platforms.

Put simply, if you have not already, then you need to make the time to do some of these classes. Education is the most important investment you can make in yourself, and at this point there are hundreds of free online university-level classes in everything from the arts to statistics. If ever you wanted to expand your horizons, now’s the time.

I’ve personally taken 7 online classes now, and earned certificates in all of them. I use the material in many of these classes in my work, and I even have used two (Machine Learning and Probabilistic Graphical Models) to expand my company’s capabilities. I am far more secure in my job because of what I’ve learned. In addition, I had the honor of trying out the Probabilistic Graphical Model Community TA program, and my only regret is that I couldn’t put more time into it. To the extent that I took advantage of it, I got a lot out of the experience.

Now, the hard part. These classes require self-discipline. Like universities, there are some duds as well. At least you can add and drop at will, not worrying about prerequisites. You have to take responsibility for your own education and your own motivation.

In all, I’m very grateful that there are these pioneers Andrew Ng, Daphne Koller, Sebastian Thrun, and others who saw this need and had the knowledge and motivation to fill it. They are now moving in the direction of accreditation, and both free and premium models (probably for some kind of licensing or degree, which I don’t care about right now). For now, you can sign up and take classes at will.

Happy MOOCing!