Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Coursera: online learning made accessible and engaging

There is another online learning course that is keeping me preoccupied, and this one is courtesy of Coursera.

From their website: Coursera is "an education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. Our technology enables our partners to teach millions of students rather than hundreds."

This method of online learning is one of the better technology trends currently occurring in the net. This even has a technical name: MOOC or Massive Open Online Course. The Wikipedia has an interesting article about this.

I am currently enrolled at Internet History, Technology, and Security, a course by Dr Charles Severance (twitter: @drchuck) of the University of Michigan. This is my first online course, and I must say it has been an enjoyable and educational experience so far. We are nearly halfway our 10-week course. I thought this was going to be just a refresher for me, having studiously learned about the history of the internet (limited as it may be) which I even added as part of my presentations way back in the 90s when I was a Network Systems Engineer. It was not a biggie, in fact it was merely a description of DARPA and ARPANET which I breeze through in under 5 minutes before I got to the main topic of my presentation to our clients (which was mostly about the Network General Sniffer (now NetScout).

I thought that the history portion will also be a miniscule portion of the 10-week course. How wrong I was! We had History for the first 3 weeks. Lectures from drchuck were interspersed with interviews from internet pioneers and innovators. The back story went all the way into World War II, and that the academe figured heavily into the development of early technologies, not just the US government. It was quite a revelation to me.

We are now into the technicalities of how packets get routed across the internet, and the OSI and TCP/IP layer and similar stuff, all being explained in a manner that can be understood by the layman.  There are also opportunities to interact with other participants, by way of discussion forums, assignments for extra credit, and we also have a Facebook Page.

I am enjoying this course so much that I have registered for another course, this one about Metadata which will start in a couple of months' time.

I encourage you to try out an online course as well. It's free! And it's not just about technology. There's humanities, sciences, and even a song-writing course.  Visit Coursera to learn more.

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