Feynman Liang is one of Coursera’s ‘top 50’ students by number of courses he has completed. To date, Feynman has taken 34 courses! We have asked him to share tips for the Coursera community on how to tackle taking multiple courses on Coursera
At first, I was skeptical about taking classes online. Since I was already enrolled in a 5-year bachelor’s program between Amherst College and Dartmouth College, what reason was there for sacrificing my already scarce time to take classes online? With hesitation and the intention of dropping out when the class got hard, roughly a year and a half ago I enrolled in my first course on Coursera: “Machine Learning” with Professor Andrew Ng.
What. A. Life-changer. As I worked through the course, I noticed overlap between Coursera’s lectures and my actual college classes. Pretty soon, I was walking into class only to find myself reviewing material already covered on Coursera. Likewise, often the quizzes and programming assignments on Coursera were a great place to actually apply the theory covered in my college lectures. Rather than competing for my time, I discovered a pleasant symbiotic relationship where the two classrooms reinforced each other.
Although I haven’t yet earned credentials for my courses on Coursera, my takeaways from all of them have been no less significant. After completing Professor Ng’s class, I found that not only did my actual grades improve, but I had also gained an awareness of advanced topics within machine learning. Boy was that exciting; I could actually sound intelligent when I talked to my professors during office hours!
As I took more classes on Coursera, the impact online education had on my everyday life became more and more significant. Despite never taking a CS101 class, I was able to use my computer programming experience gained from Coursera to satisfy the prerequisites for an algorithms class at Amherst College and a parallel programming class at Dartmouth College.
Perhaps my most significant (so far, at least) reward from online education was during my summer internship interviews. Although I signed an NDA to not disclose the questions, I can say that both Professor Sedgewick’s and Professor Roughgarden’s algorithms classes cover more than enough to ace technical interviews. Thanks to the preparation provided by my online classes, I am a software engineering intern this summer at Google.
My “Noogler” Hat from Google Intern Orientation
But, as you fellow Courserians may know, often the gap between online education and real-world impact seems quite wide and and the utility of online classes may be questionable. To help bring the two closer, here are some of my important lessons learned from my experience with Coursera around how to handle multiple courses and putting what you’ve learned to good use:
Tip 1: Be hungry for opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge.
Knowledge is only as useful as the extent to which it is utilized. Be on the lookout for places to apply your online education. In my personal experience, I’ve found people to be much more interested in my understanding of the material than in logistical details surrounding what’s an “official” college class.
Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to do poorly or drop out.
How well you do in an online class certainly won’t impact your GPA, and no one has to ever know when you drop an online class. This is dramatically different from college, where your performance goes on your transcript. Forever. So, make sure to take full advantage of the opportunity to try out a variety of classes and instructors without repercussions. I often find myself dropping classes because they’re not what I thought they would be like and completing classes I never thought I’d be interested in.
Tip 3: Hard skills are what matters at the end of the day.
The knowledge you gain from an online class is yours to keep and is the most valuable thing you’ll take away at the end of any course. The more, the better.
Until next time, stay hungry and stay fast, fellow Courserians!
P.S., GigaOM just wrote an article about Feynman on 8/9/13 with more tips. Feel free to read more here: How to pick the best MOOCs: 6 tips from a Coursera junkie – GigaOM2