Sunday, February 12, 2012

Revolution in education, NOT!

Well, at least not this.

For blog post about digital life

I've now watched a significant portion of Andrew Ng's Stanford Machine Learning course on iTunes U. I have taken several Machine Learning [classroom] courses, I've read many Machine Learning books and technical papers, I've done research on Machine Learning, and I've also taught Machine Learning. In short, I already know all the material in this course; watching it is mostly entertainment and professional curiosity.

And I still find the lectures harder to follow than a simple textbook.

(That's a lecture format problem, not a Andrew Ng problem.) The supplemental materials help, but they are essentially class notes in PDF format. (There are some problem sets, but no affordances for the general audience to get them graded.)

I'm not sure this is better than a textbook

In lieu of, or to complement, this online course, here are a couple of non-interactive Machine Learning textbooks available online -- legally; posted by their authors:
Yes, an interactive textbook with Matlab (or Octave or R) programming affordances would be better than a non-interactive textbook, especially if the reader received feedback on his/her performance. But I still don't see the point of watching someone talk through the ML points when reading them is much faster. Video is useful when demonstrating software, for example, but a screen capture would work better than a classroom shot for that.

Let me reiterate the golden rule of learning technical material: 1% lecture, 9% study, 90% practice. You still need the textbook (preferably with dynamic content where applicable and programming and testing affordances) and the job of the instructor is crucial (selecting the material, sequencing it, choosing the textbook, designing the assignments, grading the assignments; and someone must write the textbook, of course), but the learning happens when you can WRITE CODE AND INTERPRET RESULTS.

If that's hard on your self-esteem, then tough. Machines don't care.