At the end of 2011, I participated in 2 of 3 free, online courses offered from professors from Stanford University in an experiment in online education. From that experiment, 2 new startups spun out of Stanford – Udacity and Coursera. Since then, both Coursera and Udacity have started to increase their class offerings, and now a wide variety of university level classes can be taken online for free.
Those who know about MIT’s OpenCourseWare program and iTunes U have known for a while that these courses were there for taking anyway. The difference between those and the courses offered by Coursera and Udacity is one of time and deadlines. The OCW and iTunes U video lectures are available online, always. No time limits. The Coursera and Udacity courses run on a strict time frame, and have weekly deadlines for homework. This helps you stay on track and provides a basic level of accountability.
I just finished Udacity’s AI for Robotics class, and as a result of a particularly busy period of work, I’ve had to miss out on some great courses offered by Coursera. At first I thought the online classes I’ve been taking were just a one off, a 12 week event that once finished, I walked away from.
Coursera are offering several computer vision classes, and I’ve been saving the videos from the natural language processing course. I’m now starting to realize that this online learning is going to become a regular part of my life, like working and socializing. I’m more than OK with this, it just means having to juggle things around in my life.
I think this sort of continuous learning should be a part of everyone’s life. If you haven’t checked out the offerings from Coursera or Udacity, I suggest you do so. Chances are one of the courses will pique your interest. Sign up. Spend 2 hours a week watching lectures instead of TV. The worst that can happen is you fail an online class you previously weren’t thinking of taking.