My MOOC journey – 3

5 06 2017

Part 1   Part 2

I do take some technical, skill improving courses, which I cherish too. But I don’t take them too often. Especially not when I’m already bogged down by regular work. My areas of interest in this aspect include data science, statistics, machine learning, data analysis, visualizations…. You get the idea. I like the ones offered by John Hopkins University as part of the data Science Specialization, though I must admit that the two statistics related courses are a little too hard to follow.

Out of my fun stuff, the following are the best:
• The Science of Happiness (series of posts)
The Science of Everyday Thinking (edX)
Life of Happiness and Fulfillment
Besides being fun, these are truly life-changing and influential. I gained lot of insights from these MOOCs.

I also loved Understanding Memory: Explaining the Psychology of Memory through Movies from Wesleyan University that I have taken recently. It explained lot of memory related phenomena as portrayed in movies. It was educational and entertaining. I enjoyed this course much more than the similar course – Marriage and the Movies: A History from the same university which I took a couple of years ago. It could be because of the choice of movies or the professor.

Becoming Human: Anthropology (Open2Study) is yet another introductory course that I enjoyed a lot. This is my first serious attempt to learn about anthropology. This course has complemented my earlier isolated ventures into evolutionary theories, paleontology, biology etc. through reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and Helen Fisher’s An Anatomy of Love. I absolutely loved both the books.

Intro to Psychology course from Udacity had been a wonderful experience too. Despite being content heavy, the interactivity and the engaging lectures made it worthwhile.

How much do I actually learn and retain from all these MOOCs? To be frank, not much. Especially from all those introductory fun courses I take. But they are definitely helpful and expands my thinking and general knowledge. I find that when I supplement the specific topic or area with additional reading – an interesting non-fiction book or random articles, listening to podcasts etc., I can easily make the connections and feel the synergy arising out of all the past learning experiences.

I believe that true learning involves discomfort and a little frustration. If everything seemed easy and does not require any effort, one may not be truly learning much. The journey to really learn something involves getting over that discomfort by focused studying and deliberate practice. There are no short cuts to learning. Sure, there are smart ways and right ways to learn, but none that would eliminate the process of climbing the learning curve.

The 2 courses by Barbara Oakley on learning – Learning How to Learn and Mindshift – are really ground-breaking MOOCs in many aspects and require special mention. Widely popular and immensely practical and useful, they provide lot of tips, techniques, and insights into the art of learning, thinking about careers. (How to Learn: The right way, Learning Challenges, Learning). She advocates the growth mindset in Mindshift with respect to surmounting our mental blocks as to our abilities, choosing multiple career skills etc.

How do I typically choose my MOOCs? Just through simple and plain old methods. Browsing the platform catalog and recommendations that come through email. 🙂

Which platforms do I like more? As you might have guessed already (totally evident from stats from Part 1), it’s Coursera. With numerous offerings and choices, it’s like a huge shopping mall. The mobile app is very convenient. I also like the edX platform, the way the course content is arranged in the UI. Open2study is pretty basic and it doesn’t have a mobile app.

My List of MOOCs

My Fav moocs

Image credits: Open2Study, Coursera, John Hopkins, Prevention

My MOOC journey – 2

2 06 2017

Part 1 Part 3

So, how did it all start? I don’t recall how I came to know about Coursera but I distinctly remember my exhilaration at discovering such a platform. My first MOOC was “Model Thinking” from University of Michigan. By any stretch, it’s my first taste of international academic teaching and I was thrilled. I was really impressed by how well the complex and otherwise models related to social science are explained and demonstrated. And then I took “Networked Life” offered by University of Pennsylvania and then Computing for data Analysis, an R programming course from John Hopkins. Ever since I explored lot of courses and many platforms.

Out of my over-enthusiasm, I sometimes enroll in multiple MOOCs simultaneously, which was fine in the beginning when there weren’t too many options to pick from. But these days, with the plethora of offerings available out there, one can’t risk being impulsive anymore. I need to pick and choose carefully, and also time them appropriately to accommodate my regular life’s demands so that I can enjoy the learning without getting stressed or burned out.

Focused learning is so exhausting, I really welcome the break of “no MOOC months” after a stretch of intensive courses, like the one I took in 2014 after my data science courses from John Hopkins. Also, I catch myself if I’m being over-ambitious by taking on too much and don’t hesitate to drop from the courses. Most of my unfinished courses are drop-outs rather than discontinuation due to expectations not being met.

My main motivation for going on a learning spree is more to broaden my knowledge base rather than to deep dive in any particular discipline or skill. So, I can usually manage at least a couple of light-weight MOOCs at the same time. I derive most pleasure learning about new topics- just introductory courses, without requiring much effort beyond watching the video lectures and taking the quizzes. I like it when I tend to come across same studies, theories, concepts across seemingly different disciplines. I clearly enjoy the cross-discipline synthesis a lot. For example, studies like Milgram’s prison experiment on effects of perceived power, Sheena Iyengar’s jam experiment on choice, pantyhose experiment on our hidden biases etc. have been referred to in seemingly varied disciplines like neuro-economics, philosophy, social psychology, science of happiness, scientific thinking and more.

MOOC word cloud2

So, what do I like in a MOOC? I like intelligently devised quizzes to test comprehension rather than testing the memory about specific studies or facts described in the lectures. I like them when too much content is not crammed into the slides and the course. Also, I would like enough repetition of key concepts, to ensure higher chance of comprehension and retention. I experienced such repetition in my recent course – Neuro-economics. For a person coming from a non-science background, the course introduced lot of terms and concepts, but strategic repetition of key terms (brain areas and their functions) helped me to progress through the course with more confidence. Pictures and animation definitely help. Cheerful professors and lively and engaging discourses also get me more involved. However, “too upbeat” kind of makes me uncomfortable. But it’s just a personal preference.


My MOOC journey – 1

31 05 2017

Part 2    Part 3

MOOCs have revolutionized learning in true sense. Though the true origins of MOOCs can be traced back to distance learning, they have undoubtedly gained wide popularity with the advent of Internet and other associated technologies. Ever since the inception of Coursera in 2012, they have become widespread and they have been in vogue ever since. And why not? It’s truly praiseworthy and remarkable that renowned educational institutions and pioneers in various fields have come forward to impart the knowledge and skills to everyone surpassing all boundaries. Several MOOC platforms sprang up offering completely free courses, while simultaneously adding more and more disciplines and courses.  And most of the MOOCs are still free, and at least let you audit for free. MOOCs have brought world-class teaching and material to the doorstep of anyone who can afford a network connection.

Coursera has started out as everything free, and later  introduced optional pay for verified certificate for most courses. And now, many of them are strictly pay courses, while some of them allow one to audit for free. Udacity was the first platform which introduced paid courses and nanodegrees designed by tech giants like Google etc. Likewise, statements of accomplishments were offered on successful completion of all free courses in the beginning, but not so much these days. However, most paid versions of MOOCs have affordable pricing, which provide authentic verified certificates.

Class-central, an aggregator of MOOCs across all platforms and universities, and provides a one stop place to find and track your interests and enrollments. It also provides helpful recommendations and articles based on popularity and student feedback. It is so easy to get lost in the ocean of MOOCs offered. And for beginners, it’s a very good avenue to start looking to get the sense of what courses are available out there.

For obsessive learners like me, MOOCs have proved to be a boon. I took courses from several platforms including

  • Coursera
  • Edx
  • Open 2 Study
  • Udacity

These platforms provide such a wide variety of courses, ranging from simple, introductory ones to more advanced courses as well. When I browse the ever expanding catalogs, I feel like a kid in the candy shop. 😛 I have completed over 30 MOOCs so far, but I’m not by any means a super MOOCer. This is over a period of about 5 years, so it’s not bad. 😉


These are just the boring statistics. Stay tuned for the interesting reflection on my motivations, MOOC highs and lows, challenges, and more in the subsequent posts. 🙂