The power of online learning

By Imroze Aslam
Fri, 10, 19

Online courses make it easy to get quality education from some of the best faculty out there....


After completing 100 certified online courses, I decided to share my experience with other people who are into online learning so that they can get the most out of it.

I did 35 of these courses over a period of four years (2015-18), but the remaining 65 were done in just seven months in 2019. Apart from these 100 courses, I’ve audited or partially completed 39 other online courses. I got into MOOCs in 2012 with the now famous Stanford Machine Learning course when it was first launched along with Coursera. I remember I used to take permission from teachers to attend classes in my university for which I wasn’t registered, taking time management to another level!

Online courses make it easy to get quality education from some of the best faculty out there. These courses have been really helpful in my academic life and career and have had a significant impact on my life. My love for online education also led me to do Georgia Tech’s Online MSCS degree which is a great programme that combines flexibility of online courses with the curriculum, academic rigour, management, projects, assignments and faculty/students collaboration of traditional graduate programmess, resulting in the same quality, experience and degree available on campus.

While doing these courses, I learned a lot about what it takes to become a successful online learner! Here is what I learned:

  • Make comprehensive yet concise notes and organize them by topics. Keep revising them; otherwise, you’ll start forgetting things. They’ll be useful for job interviews and for revising concepts for projects at job or university.
  • Play videos at 2X or 1.5X speed in order to save time. Videos are usually extra slow by default. Fast forward small portion(s) if you know the details or what the instructor is going to say.
  • Pay for the certifications instead of auditing courses. It’ll keep you motivated to actually finish the course and you’ll get a certificate to put in your resume.
  • Take advantage of subscription based services and specializations. They save money and motivate you to do multiple courses quickly before you get your bill.
  • Practical implementation, practice and projects are very important. Completing courses only can be addictive as there is immediate reward, but it is dangerous, too, if you haven’t done many projects. If you are already experienced, then it doesn’t matter much. If the courses have good exercises and projects, then that’s great, but sometimes they are much easier than real problems. There should be a balance between learning and utilization. A good approach for beginners is to start by just learning and to gradually focus more on the practical aspect.
  • Make projects after doing different courses that utilize different things that you have learnt. Doing relevant courses while already doing a project is also a good idea.
  • Courses usually take much less time than what’s written in description. The first week of a Coursera course often means one day.
  • Simple intuitions in courses often give false sense of understanding. Learning by doing or reading in detail is sometimes required to actually understand.
  • All courses are not equal. There’s great variation in online courses in terms of quality, teaching methodology, time and effort required and usefulness for a particular goal. Choose courses carefully!
  • Make a proper plan and timeline for your learning goals and courses to do.
  • Note your progress. It’ll motivate you to cover significant work every day. Sharing it with others, especially as a part of challenges like the #100DaysOfMLCode, is a great idea as it offers lot of motivation and helps you with personal branding online.
  • Doing multiple courses on the same topic is a good idea. I often learn many important details left out in other courses and interesting ways of understanding the concepts. Learning similar concepts from different perspectives makes the concept clear.
  • It’s useful to have one specialty and learn a lot about that particular area; but, you should have good knowledge of other areas, too, as you don’t know what you’ll end up working on, especially if your career path is not well defined. And many projects/roles require multi-disciplinary knowledge, too.
  • Sometimes online courses can make up for low GPA and/or not having formal educational background in that area. Certification shows that you have at least fundamental understanding of those topics.
  • There is a bit of controversy and bias in opinions on benefits of doing online course certifications, especially in terms of getting jobs. There are people who think that it is great to do as many courses as you need to, and then there are the ones who think that focus should only be on projects and practice. I believe that both have their own place and both are important. If you don’t have projects or practice then you won’t really be eligible for a job no matter how many courses you do and you won’t feel confident about being able to do actual work.

The courses that I’ve done and the notes that I’ve made helped me a lot during my academic life, projects, research, freelancing, start-ups, getting admission in university, getting the job I desired and the work I do at my job. I feel intellectually enlightened. I’m often told that I know almost everything, by students, teachers and colleagues and a big part of that is due to the courses I’ve taken. I’ve heard many recruiters and senior professionals saying that certifications make your resume stand-out from the rest and help you compete if you are fresh. I feel certifications combined with practical experience make a winning combo.

  • Things get outdated fast in Computer Science, so keep on looking for latest courses and topics and update your knowledge. Also note that often the topics taught in computing and AI related courses are fundamental ones and there is new research coming out every day. So stay updated.

I just received Udacity-Deep Learning NanoDegree Scholarship sponsored by Developer Circles from Facebook. I’m among 199 people selected from the world by Facebook after a two-phase three months challenge/process involving a pre-req course. I’ll be doing high quality online courses worth Rs 250K, from Deep Learning Nanodegree programme developed by Facebook AI and AWS, for free over a period of up to four months.

I was also chosen as Deep Learning Study Group Facilitator for Facebook Developer Circles (DevC)-Lahore. I was responsible for mentoring and guiding students enrolled in Phase 1 of DevC DL Nano-Degree Challenge and doing the pre-req course i.e. Introduction to Deep Learning with PyTorch. I was also responsible for evaluating students and resolving their questions related to course content. This time we got more selections from Pakistan in DevC Facebook programs as compared to the past. DevC-Lahore got second highest number of scholarships among all participating cities in the world.