Beginning with December – when in a blog entry I recommended a book on Machine Learning with R – I initiated a new personal enterprise: Learning the statistical programming language R to acquire competencies of a data scientist. With “learning enterprise” I do not mean to get just interested in a new subject, to read from time to time a relevant book and to look into some web-based tutorials. No, with “enterprise” I mean a much bigger undertaking, to focus and concentrate several months on a systematic study for a new set of qualifications.
I started with a nine-course introduction to data science, taught by three professors of John Hopkins University and offered via the MOOC-platform Coursera. After I finished successfully two courses with certificates I turned impatient with teaching style and course philosophy. My dissatisfaction was not so much caused by these professors or by this special course design but had more abstract reasons: As an experienced adult learner with a very attractive job I had no need to provide evidence of some acquired general qualifications as most of the course participants did. I was rather looking for some kind of Personal Knowledge which I could combine with my own life and working experiences. After a long time again in the learner role, I found it very strange that I had to spend much time on material arranged by other people which I could not need and had, on the other hand, to learn material superficially or to skip altogether, which was very useful for me.
To exemplify the situation more in detail: In the third course on Getting and Cleaning Data we had to learn different ways to get data into the R environment: To download it with URLs, to scrap it from web pages, to load it from Excel sheets, to collect it via an API. But – for instance – we didn’t learn how to get data from an SQL database. I appreciate that all these different methods are potentially important and as a data scientist one should know how to apply them. I also understand that it is impossible to learn all the different cases in detail. But I disagree that the best teaching method is an exemplary journey through some of these potentially important methods. A teaching strategy which would have better suited me would haven been a systematic and complete list of all methods with their pointers to the relevant R packages and supplemented with some prototypical program snippets to get started with. After getting a systematic overview and helpful material for future usage, one should have the opportunity to choose two or three methods and learn the nitty-gritty in practical assignments.
How to support the self-determined learner?
Consequently, I stopped my course attendance and started to look for tutorials, courses and other learning material on my own. I have to confess that I didn’t know how exciting but also how difficult this self-paced and self-determined learning approach was respectively is. Between us educators, we are talking routinely about self-determined learning , but it is quite a different thing to experience related problems yourself.
On a non-regular basis, I will share my experiences from this adventurous learning journey in a series of blog comments. This was the first one.