MOOCs and Lifelong Learning

I’ve been excited about MOOCs ever since I first heard about them a couple of years back, when Coursera started offering free courses on ML, Databases and two other subjects(I don’t remember which, but I think one of them was HCI?). I was ecstatic when EdX was announced few months after Coursera and Udacity! I’ve enrolled and later unenrolled from many of the courses over the course of two years, never finishing any of them. Each time, I gave up when I encountered a part that was difficult or when after a few weeks into the course, I came upon a prerequisite I didn’t meet. Eventually, I gave up hope of ever finishing any of those courses properly. I didn’t realize how wrong my approach was until three months back!

Learning by Doing

I’ve always tried to learn to code by following some book or tutorial from the web. It was slow process and excruciatingly difficult to feel a sense of achievement doing some menial task at the end of a chapter. I wanted more, but I liked to follow the structure of a book or a course, never exploring anything outside of it. And most of the time, I didn’t complete that book out of frustration of not achieving anything after working on it for a considerable time. That was when I decided to come back to Bangalore and see what happens.

Fast forward two months, I’m sitting idly on my bed browsing the Internet when the ever so magnificent Atul pings me on twitter out of the blue and within the first three sentences he has ordered me to come with him from the next day! I tried to get out of it saying I might not be suitable for the job since I knew so little, but he wouldn’t have any of it!

Over the course of that weekend, I tried to cram into my head whatever technology I heard him saying they are using at work! I made a valiant effort to learn Ruby & Rails over a weekend, people 😛 I was exhausted, confused, terrified and shivering on a Sunday night anticipating what was about to come the coming week. I had no clue how exciting it was going to be.

I was the first person to reach office the next day. After sometime, the place started filling up. Everyone seemed busy and so I continued to work on Rails tutorial from the previous day. Later I was given a choice between a few small tasks and I chose the one I thought would be interesting, to build a scraper with Python. Everything changed from that moment. Never in my life had I jumped into something knowing nothing about it and here I was building a scraper. I had only heard about what they do from the articles I’ve read and they were all magic to me. But I did know well how to search for relevant results on Google and that seemed to suffice. Next few days were exciting. I was building something and learning while building it. I was not following any guide. I was looking up stuff on Google and Stack Overflow when I needed it and it was working! I had heard about learning by doing and I admired those for whom it seemed to be working. But I was always afraid of going after the unknown and building that scraper gave me what I was missing all these years, a sense of accomplishment!

Data Science

I was back on Coursera once again last month and saw the Data Science specialization offered by Johns Hopkins University. I was always intrigued by it and wanted to give it a try. I’m currently on the second course, R Programming and it is fantastic! This morning, my first ever certificate appeared on Coursera and I couldn’t be happier. Finishing a MOOC, however small(very small in this case), is something I’ve been waiting for a long time and I am glad it has finally happened! I can not think of any other motivation other than realizing that learning only requires getting your hands dirty and being smart about it! I’ve got plenty to do in the future. And if you are someone who thinks you haven’t got it in you to learn all the things you want to, I say that you cannot be any far from the truth. I was like you. If your current method of learning doesn’t work for you, change the way you learn. Read about how others do it and be persistent. And you shall have what you covet!

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