Self-Paced Learning: Your Own Goals, Your Own Finish Line

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Self-Paced Learning: Tortoise or Hare, It Doesn’t Matter Here

Self-paced learning is a lot like Aesop’s fable about the Hare & the Tortoise. The hare knew he could finish quickly, so he took a nap while the tortoise continued to work on finishing the race, and because of a steady amount of determination, the tortoise got there first. The hare was capable of finishing the race more quickly, but to be honest it sounds like he didn’t feel challenged. If he was at 42 he may have stayed more focused because it isn’t about competing against others (and thus comparing yourself to others) it’s about learning at a pace that works best for you. At 42, we have students who got to a level that prepared them for the workplace in around a year. We also have students who have chosen to take on some internships to gain more experience and students who have family responsibilities that they need to take care of outside of school so it may take 3-5 years. There are minimum hourly requirements for students who live in the dorms.  All of these needs, whether you want to accelerate your studies or need to fit them into your personal schedule, can be accommodated at 42. This is because, unlike a traditional school setting, you aren’t expected to be on the same timeline as your peers. You don’t attend the same lecture on the same day at the same time, you don’t take those make it or break it tests, or work on the same exact project. No journey is the same as another here at 42, you are on your own path with your own goals and your own finish line. You could say to yourself, “well, I can learn at my own pace through an online program.” This is true, but at the same time, you will be missing out on peer-to-peer learning that not only helps you become a better programmer but also helps you hone your soft skill set. Yes, employers are expecting awesome tech skills, but they also expect you to be able to communicate with the team about what you are working on.

How 42 Students Benefit from Self-Paced Learning

We asked a few students what they thought about self-paced learning at 42, and this is what they had  to say:

Anton Cakste: “The problem with a traditional school is that everyone has to learn at the same pace. What appealed to me about 42 was that you can put in as many hours as you want and learn more in a short period of time. Back in Sweden I definitely felt that school wasn’t always challenging enough, but I can’t say that about 42. The projects get complex quite quickly and you start to learn the core fundamentals of how computers are built. It’s truly amazing how much I’ve learned in just these 2 months coming in with very little previous experience.

Before coming to 42, I’ve dabbled around with few online courses of different topics. You would think that it’s similar to 42, but it’s actually a really passive way of learning. Every step you’re told exactly what to do so it doesn’t really make you think a lot for yourself. At 42, it’s completely the opposite. You really have to be curious and creative; finding out what to do is often just as big of a challenge as actually solving the problem. The grading and evaluations are also super strict and you should expect to fail a lot. It’s really much more of a real-world situation. It’s tough, but in the long run, it makes you develop a lot of grit.

Making it at 42 is like I said not easy. Not at all. No deadlines and this much freedom is a great amount of responsibility to handle. Especially when you are young. That is where the peers come in. For me, it’s been great to have found a place where I meet like-minded people every day. People who are motivated, hyper-interested and want to work 80, 90 or 100 hours a week. I know it would be very hard to do this without the support me and my friends are giving each other.”

Tomas Diaz: “42 changes where the focus is on learning. Instead of finishing courses and focusing on grades you get to focus on mastery. Initially, when I started the 42 program I was going pretty fast. Self-pacing does allow you to go faster than average, it is more specialized to the individual.

Before 42 I went to NYU and earned a degree in Finance. You have a time slot during the semester and a course load you need to finish, and as a result, you have this timescale. So you end up skipping over things you would like to focus on or rush through things so you can pass the test, and you end up forgetting things over time. At NYU the program allowed me to choose the courses I wanted to, so I wasn’t restricted by my major but I was by time. Here at 42, I get more of a choice to choose what I want to focus on, and I am not as restricted by time. So the self-paced curriculum gives me a chance to focus on things that interest me.

The benefits of attending 42 versus taking online courses is having a shared place, and having people who may be working on similar projects.  It’s a great resource to be able to ask questions and talk through things. Also in terms of motivation, it is much easier when people are working together versus working by themselves.”

Poitier Stringer: “The benefits are obvious when you compare what I knew and was able to do when I started compared to what I know and am able to do now. Each project at 42 is designed to teach a different concept. Unlike projects at traditional schools, if you fail a project or feel there is something that needs to be improved, You are able to retry instead of being forced to move on. That’s incredibly useful to ensure a full understanding of the subject.

I think the biggest difference between traditional school and 42, is the fact that we spend so much time indirectly applying what we learn. A working project is our evidence of understanding instead of a grade on a test. It’s the application, not the memorization of concepts that makes us better programmers. I think it’s better to learn onsite in the lab because of the access you have to people of all backgrounds who have varying approaches to solving problems. I think one of the things that have helped me to develop most is seeing how others think. Also, oftentimes the most expedient way to fix a bug is to talk to someone else about it.

Nowadays there seem to be two popular routes to a career in tech. Either you spend 4 years in university with much of the time spent learning things that do not directly pertain to your career, and if you went to a school with a really good CS program you may graduate having done some of the projects we have at 42. Or you could pay several thousand dollars to a coding bootcamp for 12 weeks and learn a framework that allows you to get websites and apps running really quickly. These are both fine for what the are designed for, the traditional school gives you a good theoretical basis, and the bootcamp makes you immediately employable for a price if you can afford it. I think 42 is a happy medium between the two, as it gives me the time to gain a deep understanding of fundamentals while allowing me to focus on the specific skills I want to make a career in.”

Don Stolz: “I am going at a pretty normal pace as people who I started with in September, but I have a lot more free time than I did in the piscine.  I am working for two different startups on the side and I am also a Code for Fun instructor. I feel like the flexibility in the curriculum makes it possible for me to do all that. The lab is always open, so I can go in when it’s good for me. 42 is different from a traditional school, not just the pace but the hands-on projects. There was a lot of lecturing at the university but it goes in one ear, you spit it out for the test, and you forget it the next semester. The projects based system at 42 works better than tests, it simulates more of a real work environment.

I am interested in starting as a software engineer and going into product management someday. I want a variety of experiences, so working with startups I get to use new technologies, and being an instructor is knowing how to explain things and it is critical to know how to communicate with people. I definitely think 42 has improved my soft skills because during my first year in my computer science degree program at Loyola I didn’t speak to many other computer science students. At 42 you may get overwhelmed by a project at one time or another, so you need to reach out to other people.

There is always someone to help in the community and being there to help in return, people think of different questions and help me to think of things differently. 42 is better than trying to learn at home through an online program. Just the environment and the fact I can literally talk to someone who has done the project before. There are definitely people who can give a better explanation than what I can find on Stack Overflow so I can make sure I understand it instead of just skimming over some explanation.”

Cecelia Suh: “I think 42 benefits people like me because I need that flexibility in my schedule in order to work part-time and be able to be here. Having the lab available 24/7 is priceless for me because I work during the day and need to be able to be here in the evening. Also, I feel like some people progress faster than I do, so I am able to focus more on certain topics. Before 42 I actually I went to nursing school in Boston. It was very regimented because we had to do clinicals and it was difficult because I was working part-time. I am more interested in the topic I am studying here at 42 so that is a big motivator.

One thing I like is how I can ask anyone for help with projects here and they can help you out. We just had an event on the patio and I was able to meet with other students and learn what they are working on, and they are very passionate about what they are doing. You don’t get that experience online, you could do it on a forum, but it isn’t the same as coming together and talking about it in person. Plus being in Silicon Valley is incomparable.

I am not exactly sure what I want to do yet, and that flexibility in the curriculum is an important component as well when it comes to career exploration. I like how there are different branches that you can follow in the curriculum. It works great in the opposite way as well if someone wants to move really fast through the program they can work at a faster pace.”

Self-Paced Learning: Investing In Yourself

Self-paced learning is a big part of our commitment to making tech education more accessible. Learning at your own pace is an investment in yourself. By rushing through a curriculum to keep up with the rest of your class, or being held back by the average pace of your peers, it is difficult to stay motivated and engaged. Instead of making a commitment to an institution’s schedule, 42 allows their students to commit to a pace that works best for them intellectually and personally. In this process, you learn how to manage your time so you can achieve your goals. You also learn when you can accomplish something by yourself or when you need to reach out to get another perspective. These traits aren’t inherent to outcomes in traditional schools, but they are valuable in today’s world. Self-paced learning goes hand-in-hand with another important component of the 42 pedagogy: project-based learning. Students at 42 decide which projects they start and complete, when they work on them, and how they learn. Through projects that you work on at your own pace, you are able to learn at a deeper level and truly understand what you are doing. This is vital to becoming a great computer programmer since knowing how to learn new things is the only way to keep up in the tech industry. 42 is passionate about helping students get the most out of their educational experience and learn at a pace that is best for them.

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published by Stacey Faucett – December 10, 2018