The Five C's of Online Learning

This post originally appeared on Quora as my answer to 'Udacity or Coursera for AI machine learning and data science courses?'

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Tea or coffee?

Burger or sandwich?

Rain or sunshine?

Pushups or pull-ups?

Can you see the pattern?

Similar but different. It’s the same with Udacity and Coursera.

I used both of them for my self-created AI Masters Degree. And they both offer incredibly high-quality content.

The short answer: both.

Keep scrolling for a longer version.

Let’s go through the five C’s of online learning.

If you’ve seen my work, you know I’m a big fan of digging your own path and online platforms like Udacity and Coursera are the perfect shovel. But doing this right requires thought around five pillars.


Curiosity

When you imagine the best version of yourself 3–5 years in the future, what are they doing?

Does it align with what’s being offered by Udacity or Coursera?

Is the future you a machine learning engineer at a technology company?

Or have you decided to take the leap on your latest idea and go full startup mode?

It doesn’t matter what the goal is. All of them are valid. Mine is different to yours and yours will be different to the other students in your cohort.

The important part is an insatiable curiosity. In Japanese, this curiosity is referred to as ikigai or your reason for getting up in the morning.

Day to day, you won’t be bounding out of bed running to the laptop to get into the latest class or complete the assignment you’re stuck on.

There will be days where everything else except studying seems like a better option.

Don’t beat yourself up over it. It happens. Take a break. Rest.

Even with all the drive in the world, you still need gas.


Contrast

Sam was telling me about a book he read over the holidays.

‘There were some things I agreed with but some things I didn’t.’

My insatiable curiosity kicked in.

‘What did you disagree with?’

I was more interested in that. He said it was a good book. What were the things he didn’t like?

Why didn’t he like those things?

The contrast is where you learn the most.

When someone agrees with you, you don’t have to back up your argument. You don’t have to explain why.

But have you ever heard two smart people argue?

I want to hear more of those conversations.

When two smart people argue, you’ve got an opportunity to learn the most.

If they're both smart, why do they disagree?

What are their reasons for disagreeing?

Take this philosophy and apply it to learning online through Udacity or Coursera.

If they’re like tea and coffee, where's the difference?

When I did the Deep Learning Nanodegree on Udacity, I felt like I had a wide (but shallow) introduction to deep learning.

Then when I did Andrew Ng’s deeplearning.ai after, I could feel the knowledge compounding.

Andrew Ng’s teachings didn’t disagree with Udacity’s, they offered a different point of view.

The value is in the contrast.


Content

Both partner with world-leading organisations.

Both have world class quality teachers.

Both have state of the art learning platforms.

When it comes to content, you won’t be disappointed by either.

I’ve done multiple courses on both platforms and I rate them among the best courses I’ve ever done. And I went to university for 5-years.

Udacity Nanodegrees tend to go for longer than Coursera.

For example, the Artificial Intelligence Nanodegree is two terms both about 3–4 months long.

Whereas Coursera Specializations (although at times a similar length), you can dip in and out of.

For example, complete part 1 of a Specialization, take a break and return to the next part when you’re ready. I’m doing this for the Applied Data Science with Python Specialization.

If content is at the top of your decision-making criteria, make a plan of what it is you hope to learn. Then experiment with each of the platforms to see which better suits your learning style.


Cost

Udacity has a pay upfront pricing model.

Coursera has a month-to-month pricing model.

There have been times I completed an entire Specialization on Coursera within the first month of signing up, hence only paying for one month.

Whereas, all the Udacity Nanodegree’s I’ve done, I’ve paid the total up front and finished on (or after) the deadline.

This could be Parkinson’s Law at play: things take up as much time as you allow them.

Both platforms offer scholarships as well as financial support services, however, I haven’t had any experience with these.

I drove Uber on weekends for a year to pay for my studies.

I’m a big believer in paying for things.

Especially education.

When I pay for something, I take it more seriously.

Paying for something is a way of saying to yourself, I’m investing my money (and time spent earning it), I better invest my time into too.

All the courses I’ve completed on both platforms have been worth more than the money I spent on them.


Continuation

You’ve decided on a learning platform.

You’ve decided on a course.

You work through it.

You enjoy it.

Now what do you do?

Do you start the next course?

Do you start applying for jobs?

Does the platform offer any help with getting into the industry?

Udacity has a service which partners students who have completed a Nanodegree with a careers counsellor to help you get a role.

I’ve never got a chance to use this because I was hired through LinkedIn.

What can you do?

Don’t be focused on completing all the courses.

Completing courses is the same as completing tasks. Rewarding. But more tasks don’t necessarily move the needle.

Focus on learning skills.

Once you’ve learned some skills. Practice communicating those skills.

How?

Share your work.

Have a nice GitHub repository with things you’ve built. Stack out your LinkedIn profile. Build a website where people can find you. Talk to people in your industry and ask for their advice.

Why?

Because a few digital certificates isn’t a reason to hire someone.

Done all that?

Good. Now remember, the learning never stops. There is no finish line.

This isn’t scary. It’s exciting.

You stop learning when your heart stops beating.


Let’s wrap it up

Both platforms offer some of the highest quality education available.

And I plan on continuing to use them both to learn machine learning, data science and many other things.

But if you can online choose one, remember the five C’s.

  1. Curiosity — Stay curious. Remember it when learning gets tough.

  2. Contrast — Remix different learning resources. All the value in life is at the combination of great things.

  3. Content — What content matches your curiosity? Follow that.

  4. Cost — Cost restrictions are real. But when used right, your education is worth it.

  5. Continuation — Learn skills, apply them, share them, repeat.

More

I’ve written and made videos about these topics in the past. You might find some of the resources below valuable.

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