Friday, January 31, 2014

Specializations at Coursera - new quality among MOOCs?

I am big fan of MOOCs. Idea of preparing lectures, quizzes and assessments for people to be accessed through web browser, mostly for free is greatly generous. And its not just idea. There are foundations, universities and companies which are actually doing this. With bigger or smaller success but still. Currently my favorite site which is offering MOOCs is

How are MOOC working? Lets assume for example, that you want to learn Python. You maybe have some books, you maybe read some examples across web, and wrote some simple script. But you also might feel kind of lost. You don't know what parts are important, and maybe you don't have idea how to change newly acquired knowledge into practice. And here comes MOOCs. MOOC is Massive Online Open Courseware. It means that, if you find interesting MOOC, it will provide series of lectures (often video lectures), some simple quizzes after each part of material and bigger homework after larger segment. At the end, there usually is exam, maybe project or something similar, designed to test learned skills. So, back to Python. If you check site mentioned earlier, and answer the question "What would you like to learn about?" with "python" you will find three upcoming courses at the day this post was written. Those are: "An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python", "High Performance Scientific Computing" and "Learn to Program: The Fundamentals", prepared by Rice University, University of Washington and University of Toronto. All those courses are free, and represents different approaches to topic with different difficulties and time frames.

But what to do if we want to learn something more deeper? We can search for complementary MOOCs over many different sites. There is an problem - often complementary course offers large part of it as introduction which might double the information that you already learned, thus lead to waste of time. As solution to this problem, Coursera prepared "Specializations". Specializations are series of courses which are covering bigger ideas. For me, their recent offer which is dedicated to Data Science is perfect. I'm interesting in data science since some time, but just recently I started to look for related MOOCs. And I found mentioned specialization. Don't worry about prices listed there. Those prices are for official printed and signed certificate of accomplishment issued by university and Coursera. If you don't need such certificate, you may enter those courses for free, and if you complete them, you will receive simple free PDF version. Not to mention knowledge ;)

I'm very excited by this idea, and I hope it will be widely adopted by other sites offering MOOCs. Damn, I actually can't imagine, how general learning will look like in twenty years form now :)

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