Online courses

Back in December I wrote about the online machine learning course from Stanford, and how I was looking forward to the course on probabilistic graphical models (PGMs).  Unfortunately the second course did not work out so well for me, despite my obvious interest in the topic, and I never completed it. The workload was simply too intense and the weekly deadlines were incompatible with my busy travel schedule during the springtime.

The Stanford courses are now part of an umbrella organization called Coursera, which is aggregating online courses from Universities all over the world.  This 20-minute TED talk  by Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera and lecturer on the PGM course, explains Coursera’s social mission.  I now realise I am not really part of the target audience. In fact Coursera has its eye on the global marketplace for education. By removing  financial and logistic barriers to entry they aim to make higher education accessible to people who would never otherwise have a chance to follow such courses.

An interesting point made by Koller is that online courses generate large amounts of data, which can be analyzed to improve the course the next time it is repeated. The same idea is reiterated by Peter Norvig in a 6-minute TED talk. Norvig’s talk also explains why the weekly deadlines – which I complained about above – are necessary to make these courses work.

Not discouraged by my failure on the PGM course, I have signed up for two autumn courses: Heterogeneous Parallel Programming and Functional Programming Principles in Scala. Both are relatively short (6 and 7 weeks respectively) so should be more manageable although I am sure I will have to give up one of them.