Coming to terms with online courses

There are lots of free online courses available on sites like Coursera, but I’ve always had a hard time sticking with them. I don’t like listening to lectures; they feel too slow. Slides and subtitles are inferior to properly-formatted tutorials or books. I sometimes sign up for courses, but then I wander off when I lose interest.

I decided to try online courses again, since one of the other Hacklab members spoke highly of the R course she was taking on Coursera. This time, I tried skipping the lectures, focusing instead on answering the quizzes and doing the programming assignments – essentially, treating it as an open-book exam. That worked out pretty well, actually. I quickly completed all the quizzes, and it took me a few more hours to get the programming assignments sorted out. Many of the programming assignments had self-checking mechanisms, so I didn’t have to wait for peer evaluation.

I like that a lot more than the old way I used to try to get through these online courses. By focusing on the assessments, I can get through the course quickly, identify anything I want to dig deeper into, and try something new with the ability to check my work. Sure, I miss out on testing my ability to retain more information and I might miss out on important points not covered by quiz questions, but at least I’m getting some value out of online courses. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of other ways to study later on!

  • Mike Wilson

    I still don’t like online courseware. BUT keep an eye on the joystiq.com “deals” section. They will occasionally have massive deals on udemy/coursera type course bundles. I find them hard to resist for a variety of programming skills that represent glaring gaps in my knowledge.

  • stefanvdwalt

    I agree that the lectures feel too slow, so I listen to them at 1.2 to 1.5x speed using VLC. Then you really have to focus :)

  • this is something that I might try. I got started with the R series, but found the time requirements daunting. Listening to a few hours of lectures, then doing the coursework and quizzes. Eventually I gave up.