Feedback on learning Linux with a MOOC

John Newton's picture
John Newton

As someone who has been fan of MOOCs for a while now, I thought it might be interesting to report back on my own findings as a learner for a change.

I'm a long-time largely self-taught Linux user, so I thought it might be fun (and informative) to actually do a formal course in Linux to see how a MOOC would deliver. I've been taking the EdX/Linux Foundation course on and off for a few weeks now. As you might expect from the course's provenance, this is a well-structured and comprehensive programme. Chapters are logically put together, navigation is clear and there no big surprises. In a way, this is the kind of course I often like the best - I don't want any tricks or gimmicks getting in the way - I'm here to learn and the architecture of the course should be as invisible to me as possible, leaving me to concentrate on actually getting some skills and knowledge into my head.

A couple of constructive criticisms - the video introductions to each chapter were eminnently skippable for me and I suspect for most learners - just give me the bullets as I don't want to hang around here. However, some videos were really useful - great to see Linus Torvald et al. I also made extensive use of setting the video speed higher than the default so I could get the gist of things more quickly. If you've never tried this before as a learner, I strongly recommend it. You don't need to be super smart to do this (I'm a slow learner!) and in my view it actuallly helps with concentration.

A slightly faster video makes me sit up and concentrate; otherwise I can find my mind wandering. (There's evidence out there you can review on this topic via a quick Google Scholar search.) So far, there have been a few holes in the course - interactions that failed to load, and the occasional bad gateway request on a page. Overwhelmingly, the platform feels solid but nonetheless I was a bit surprised to see some quality control issues like this.

MOOC means (obviously) a lot of other learners. As a result, I found it hard to use the Discussion area constructively. Without a manageable cohort, I'm so far finding it really hard to engage in in threads where I feel I have something to learn or contribute. The course is inherently wide-ranging in its learner profiles, so absolute beginners do find themselves alongside some highly technical Linux power users whcih I would think could be quite inhibiting for newbies. That said, the tone of the threads I've been involved in or reviewed have been overwhelmingly supportive. My takeaway point from this is that the MOOC feels (counter-intuitively) very much more like a standalone e-learning programme as the scale of the cohort and lack of class organisation is curiously isolating. So I'm not learning much as yet from my fellow students but I'm about half-way through the programme and I'll report back if this changes by the end.

A big thanks to edX and the Linux foundation for making this course free!