My experience with e-learning courses

Online courses have opened up a world of possibilities for learning while working from virtually anywhere. Explore some of these courses.
Massive Open Online Courses Massive Open Online Courses

The Internet and mobile revolutions have combined to give birth to whole new generations of tools that put skills that were squarely in the domain of specialists a decade ago, in the hands of laypersons and amateurs. A lot of that has to do with the development of software and online services that reduce the learning curve and also cut down the complexity in getting work done. Luckily online learning material and courses over the last few years has opened up a world of possibilities for learning while working from virtually anywhere. Coursera, Edx and Opencourseware are just a few of the portals that make it possible to access top quality learning materials and participate in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). While MOOCs cover a wide range of topics, my interests were in the area of statistics, data analysis and visualisation and mapping. Over the last year I took three courses that were quite beneficial -

I found MOOCs useful for a number of reasons. One was that it gives me the flexibility to learn at my pace without taking a break from regular work. It was also difficult to find good quality training courses on these topics that are accessible from where I am, particularly on data analysis. Having read many reviews about MOOCs over the years, when I came across the MOOC on mapping I decided to take the plunge. I wasn't sure if the format of a MOOC with weekly lessons and work load would suit me, but it ended up providing the flexibility that actually helped me complete the course.

The Maps and the Geospatial Revolution course provides an introduction to GIS using free (as in free beer, and not free as in freedom) online mapping tools like Google Maps, Arcgisonline etc. It does a good job of giving real life examples where GIS and mapping is applied to provide a context within which the technical aspect of mapping is taught. While the examples and assignments are based on arcgisonline, the concepts can easily be transferred to any other software of our choice. More than teaching how to use a GIS, the course strives to help us learn to think spatially.

The MOOC from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas brought together five experts, including practitioners from The New York Times, ProPublica, NPR and the Houston Chronicle. The course gives an overview of what Data-driven journalism is and examples from practice in the USA. The course also covers how data is used in the media, where to find data, how to clean and analyze data, and how to present information for maximum readability and interactivity. The principles related to good storytelling, optimal use of data and presentation are universally applicable. The Chicago Crime Site is a good example for this. There was also debate on the ethics of data use, especially personal data and privacy. In sum, the course exposed me to a torrent of data stories from different parts of the world. It also underlined the reality today that news stories are not just about reporting events but also about hidden patterns in data that are waiting to be unearthed.



The Statistics One course is a much more traditional lecture-based technical course. It teaches descriptive and inferential statistics through a series of video lectures and is based on the use of 'R' software, a free and open source statistical and visualization tool. Each lecture session is followed by a lab session demonstrating the use of R, so you learn statistics while learning R at the same time. The course material is a good reference for quickly checking specific concepts in statistics and the corresponding methods in R. 



Each of us may have a different pace and method of learning, and MOOCs provide the flexibility to address this. Some MOOCs also make their material available for download even when the course is not running so that you can use some or all of the material to learn at your own pace. There is an increasing diversity of topics being covered as more and more universities and faculty members are embracing MOOCs. Some of the courses compel one to participate in a discussion forum, which is a new experience, as most of us browse discussion forums but rarely, if ever, contribute to them. This also helps develop a feeling of learning in a group rather than in isolation.

Overall, MOOCs are definitely worth trying out. They are a great way to explore a new topic or to brush up on a known one. So, go ahead and explore the links in this post and hope to bump into you in the discussion forums of some of the courses!


The Lead Image - By Elliot Lepers [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons



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