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Discovering the Quality of Online Courses

Learning R and Matlab online

Over lockdown last year and with the new found time saved from commuting I was resolute to achieve something I've been meaning to for a while and improve my R and Matlab skills.

I had an introductory level of both already but was looking for something to allow me to use them both with more confidence.

After weighing what was out there I signed up to Coursera. I was sold by the great reviews from the many (millions) who had already enrolled with them, and the very reasonable £30 a month price.

What is Coursera?

Coursera is an online platform with courses offered by leading universities and practioners. The monthly subscription allows you to sign up to as many as you like.

The courses I signed up to and completed over 2021 were -

Machine Learning using Matlab:

and (not concurrently!)

Data Science using R:

How it works

Each course was taught with a mixture of video lectures, reading, quizzes and assignments.

The syllabus was broken down into 'weeks' with an estimated time of completion for each, and progress tracked by marking each off as you watch/read/pass.

I say 'weeks' as although they give guided timelines, you can extend if you find yourself pushed.

'Data Science with R' course homesite, showing materials and progress

My favourite part of both was the assignments which were mini practical projects. They put into practice the material of the week and sometimes had some sample code as a starting guide.

The process for marking was new to me -

  • For the Machine Learning course you would call their server through Matlab. It would run some tests through your code and check it got the correct results back.

  • The R course used peer review, where you post your code to git and your fellow students mark it against a set of criteria. The peer-review marking being part of the assignment itself! This also turned out to be a good part of learning - to see others' approaches.

'Machine Learning' course home site

If you got stuck there was discussion forums where you could review past conversations or ask anything new. Lecturers and support staff were on hand replying to queries.

Round up

Overall I was happily surprised at the quality of the courses and how engaging they were to keep me wanting to progress. It helped lockdown to pass, was far more productive than a commute and they've certainty improved my skills a lot.

The next thing I'd like to look at more is datacamp. I've tried a couple of competitions they run. Things like 'can you hedge inflation with bitcoin?' Use R/Python to present your theory, This could be a good next step to put the skills into practice in a new challenging way.

Have you had any experience with online courses or have alternative sites you'd recommend? Please leave a comment!

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