It comes as no surprise that one of the largest Internet companies in the world is using open online courses to teach people about their business. Google has been offering limited-time courses. This is the second one that I’m aware of and it’s called “Making Sense of Data“. The primary course runs from March 8 to April 4, 2014 if you want an official certificate for completing it, but should remain available online after that if that doesn’t matter to you.
I am not sure the primary purpose of the course from Google’s perspective, but they are showing off their Fusion Tables product in every course exercise. Oh you’ve never heard of Fusion Tables before? Well that proves my point. Fusion Tables is the newest free tool in the Google Drive tool set, and allows you to play with and analyze data online. It does not replace their spreadsheet offering, but make analyzing data easier. Having a course like this is a good way to show off Fusion Tables – just sayin’.
The course is an interesting format:
- A short video at the beginning of each section, but the majority of the learning is text based
- You can go at your own pace, as all modules are released at once
- It takes a few hours to go through from beginning to end
- There is a project at the end, with peer review grading
- You must submit the project by April 4 in order to be graded
- Successful completion of the project gets you a course certificate
So, it’s an interesting mixture of go-at-your-own-pace and leveraging the group forum, grade your peers, and other advantages of a course delivered in real-time.
Another interesting aspect of this is Google’s totally unique course delivery method. Courses are delivered in units and activities. The lessons are optional. So you do the activity first, and if you get stuck and want to view the lesson, you can link to that. The activity builds on itself as the steps get revealed one after another, which leaves everything you’ve already completed on the screen for you to view by scrolling up. Each assignment builds upon the last. It’s definitely different.
For instance, say an activity has 5 steps. Google presents step 1, and you click to complete it. Then step 2 is displayed beneath a grayed-out step 1. Very clever.
The course is short, and easily digestible. It starts by describing the concept of tables, rows and columns and works up from there. The assignments take the form of real-world business problems. So if you wanted to increase sales of your product in China, what is the first piece of data you will want to see?
It also involves some business lessons, as you are asked to infer how to calculate net profit given a number of related variables (such as revenue and cost). They don’t give you the answers to this, but it’s certainly not hard to figure out.
Overall I would say this is a neat course. Certainly not up to the level of Udacity in terms of teaching big data handling techniques, but it’s good at the beginner level to learn how data is done in rows and columns, how to summarize on certain columns and how to create charts to help you find what you need visually. If you’ve never worked with data, you will learn something.