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First experience with MOOC

The year of 2012 for the Internet was definitely the year of the “massive open online courses” with some startups of online education stepping up to the big stage (Coursera, Udacity, etc) and some well know names coming up with their own initiatives (MIT, Harvard and Berkeley at Edx). So in the beginning of this year there were many opportunities to learn something new or update your knowledge with college level quality, where the only prerequisite is your motivation.

So i decide to give it a try, in January I picked up a topic that i wanted to learn/improve and signed up for it. The course wasn’t taken in any of that major sites that i previously mentioned but the system was based on Edx. At the end of the month, i started the 10gen‘s 7 week course on “MongoDB for Developers” (Given in Python) and followed the weekly classes flawlessly till the final exam in the middle of March.

In the next few paragraphs i will describe my experience based on some notes that i took during that period, basically, i will tell what i liked and what i think that should be improved.

On the first week in a course for developers, the rythm was kinda slow with the instructors wasting too much time with the basics of python and how to install some libraries. At first i thought everyone would think the same, but in the discussions i noticed that many of the fellow students didn’t even knew how to install python on their machines. Even though it was a nice thing to do, in my opinion for this kind of course previous python experience should be a prerequisite.

In the next few weeks things started to get interesting when we focused more on mongodb and talked about its operations, design, performance, the aggregation framework, etc. Every week a new batch of 3 to 10 minute videos (with few exceptions), covering each one a new concept or use case about the week’s topic was released, plus some questions to make sure you understood the what was being explained in each video. Personally i like this approach, i didn’t move to the next video until i completely understood the previous one, and if i had doubts it was as simple as watch the video again and use the discussions in the case the doubts persists. The responses to your questions were posted generally pretty fast, many times by the instructor but most of the times by fellow students.

To complete the week you had to complete some kind of homework that weighed 50% of your final grade. Some people complained that it was relatively easy to complete these tasks, but in my opinion the purpose of this homework is to certify that you, at the end of each week, understood the key concepts lectured and not to test the capacity and expertise of the participants.

In the last week of the course, you only had to complete the exam, the content posted by the instructor were optional and consisted in interviews with professionals talking about mongodb implementations in production right now on codecademy and foursquare.

One improvement that i would like to see in future courses is a discussion box per video where you didn’t have to leave the video page to ask questions or to answer the ones you know.

In conclusion, i really liked the experience and i will certainly put my new “mongodb” skills in action on a future project. Right now I’m already aiming to a new course for the summer (when my weekly schedule is lighter). If you already took one of these online courses, I would like to listen what you have to say about them. Feel free to use the comments.

By Gonçalo Valério

Software developer and owner of this blog. More in the "about" page.