What connects online education and Forrest Gump?

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For the past year I have been devoting a good deal of my private time on online education and specifically I have been concentrating on Udacity Machine Learning and Self-Driving Car programs. I am a big fan of learning online and I believe this is how we are going to get skills and knowledge in the future.

That being said, isn’t it also important to have a face-to-face contact with another human being in the entire learning process? Is this what the future holds? Am I only going to sit in front of my computer and never ever have to talk to anyone again? Well… my answer is a short no and let me explain this.

From my experience there are many opportunities to contact other students through tools such as Slack, online forums and also mentorship programs that the online platforms can offer. This is indeed some form of human contact and for all questions related to learning content this is normally enough and gets the job done nicely but… but it is still an online world.

Let me tell you a story…

Sightseeing Frankfurt — private photos collection

Month and a half ago David Silver, the lead of the Self-Driving Car program wrote that he would visit IAA 2017 (International Motor Show) in Frankfurt and would like to meet European students. I got really excited as after almost a year of studying at home in front of my computer it would be great to get to know other people.

When I arrived at the meetup there was already David and to be honest it felt like seeing an old friend who you speak to only on Skype. Kind of unreal at first but there is also this immediate connection. Actually one of the students seeing David said “so… so… you are real!”.

My absolute favorite part about the event was meeting other fellow students. Well, let me ask you this. How often do you get to know in one evening a data scientist working at a cyber security startup, a robotics engineer who just completed a project for an automatic docking of yachts, a mathematics professor lecturing in Paris, a pilot of emergency medical service missions who loves to code or a computer science student passionate about bringing self-driving cars to our roads? I think I never really met so many interesting people from so diverse backgrounds and yet united by their passion for learning.

Stories of other students were ranging from how to build a startup in Europe and what is the difference from doing that in the US, what is the responsibility of engineers on the society in building the future of tech, what are the ways to get past some of the initial resistance and lack of public trust to automation and what impact self-driving cars will have on adjacent industries such as public safety due to constant monitoring and real-time knowledge of what is happening on the city streets. Discussions diverged sometimes also into even more technical topics of software engineering, automotive hardware and UX between humans and machines.

The energy that evening was palpable and the stories and conversations with other fellow students inspired me and stimulated to continue my journey. It also allowed me to connect with an entire group of students in the same geographical area with whom I now stay regularly in touch and meet at various industry events and meetups.

Effects of Online Learning

So what did the online education helped me to accomplish? I definitely became more open to the world, other industries and people from different backgrounds. This external influx was fantastic! Additionally the experience pushed me to the cutting edge of tech and the domain I was studying which was AI and Autonomous Driving as I completed two programs of Machine Learning and Self-Driving Cars from Udacity. The technical skills gathered and know-how cannot be overestimated here. I also realized that the education needs to continue throughout person’s life and one needs to strive for the lifelong learner mindset. Finally in my current role at Airbus it certainly helped me to drive innovation of my own field and look at an industry as a whole with a new set of eyes.

Learning x People² -> Infinity

This one story also made me realize something. Online learning is not only about the knowledge and skills acquired but it is actually about connecting with people, drawing an inspiration from them and building a true community. So to go back to the point of the future of education I believe it is going to be a hybrid of online learning as well as in-person relationships developed through the learning process. They will motivate and inspire us and also will last long term to support each other and use the learned skills together to build the future.

What connects online education and Forrest Gump? There is this quote in the movie that I find relevant here “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what your going to get”. My take on this is that it is quite similar with online education and the connections you make along the way. The people you will meet and the paths you will take will surprise you so please get ready because you never know what you gonna get!

“Run, Forrest! Run!”- Jenny Curran

To all fellow students, keep on learning and doing great things!