MOOCs – The Data Science Freeway

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) present an amazing opportunity for Data Science students to learn from experts in a dynamic environment. Offered by some of the top American universities, MOOCs attract virtual classrooms in the thousands, mainly because they are open to anyone and are free.

Organizations like Coursera, Udacity, and EdX have revolutionized online learning with the advent of these rich programs. Elite universities like Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Yale, Duke, Carnegie Mellon, UC Berkeley, and more offer free courses that students from all around the world are attending in huge numbers. Coursera, launched by two Stanford University professors, boasts more than 200 MOOCs through 62 colleges.

The Upside of MOOCs

The major benefit of online learning is flexibility. By not having to adhere to a daytime schedule of classes or drive to a campus, online learning has made it possible for millions of working adults to go back to school. Most online learning is done in an asynchronous environment, meaning that virtual classes can be attended at any time as long as assignments are turned in as required. Online education has opened doors for a wide variety of people who would not otherwise be able to attend school.

  • It allows a school teacher to get her master’s degree in the evening from home after her workday is done.
  • It affords the man living in rural Kansas access to an IT program not offered at a nearby college.
  • It allows the working mom to complete her bachelor’s degree after the kids are asleep.
  • It gives the Chicago police officer taking care of his elderly parent the flexibility to learn at his own pace.

Unlike online programs at for-profit online schools like University of Phoenix and Kaplan University, MOOCs offer unprecedented access to Ivy League professors through online video lectures. World-renowned lecturers at Harvard not only speak in front of packed classrooms, but also in front of laptops from Boston to Beijing. Indeed, one of the most amazing benefits of MOOCs is the access it grants to international students.

Students from China, India, Saudi Arabia, and other countries have been coming to the United States in droves to study at top universities. MOOCs allow international students to try American higher education on for size before they make the enormous commitment to relocate, line up their visas, and pony up tens of thousands of dollars for tuition, housing, and relocation. And remember, it’s much more difficult for international students to qualify for financial aid and student loans.

The Downside of MOOCs

In some ways, attending a MOOC course is like auditing a course. While you can certainly absorb useful information and gain new knowledge, you may not necessarily earn credits for the time you put into the course. As many students have found, transferring credits from a MOOC course into a master’s or certificate program is far from a given.

Online learning is not for everyone. Disciplined self-starters do well, but those who have trouble self-motivating, staying organized, and prioritizing often fail. As such, completion rates are low with most online programs, including MOOCs.

In summary, MOOCs provide a tremendous opportunity to get started on, or supplement, your data science education. However, if you’re serious about going far in this field, you may need to make a bigger commitment to furthering your education.

Data Science MOOCs

Introduction to Data Science (Coursera)

Intro to Statistics: Making Decisions Based on Data (Udacity)

Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization (The Knight Center for Journalism)

Learning from Data (CalTech)