This generation is blessed because they can learn anything without ever having to fight for a parking spot minutes before class begins. With educational series on YouTube and sites like Lynda.com teaching courses for a flat fee, the Internet has become a people’s university of sorts.
Enter Coursera. Unlike the many educational entities populating the Web, this site aims to shorten the distance between the student and the classroom (especially if it’s an Ivy League one) by offering courses from prestigious institutions like Stanford, Columbia and Princeton. For the Fall semester, Coursera is currently offering 200 courses ranging from Experimental Genome Science to Principles of Obesity Economics. The kicker? All of these courses are offered for free.
Two Stanford University computer science professors, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, launched the website back in April, and according to their website, they are “committed to making the best education in the world freely available to any person who seeks it.”
Ng told NMR:
“Coursera students have many reasons for taking our courses: everything from exploring new subjects that interest them to learning more about subjects that they are already familiar with in which they want to deepen their knowledge. These are courses commensurate with the high academic standards of our partner universities, so when a student completes a class, they can be confident of having learned something meaningful.”
Each course has its own page that includes a video introduction, a description of the course, recommended reading and a FAQ section. Courses are broken down into smaller video segments, so that you won’t have to take naps during lectures. Professors reinforce concepts by asking questions, creating interactive assignments and giving feedback. Students help each other through feedback and make suggestions for bringing the course forward.
He also talks about Coursera going beyond listening to lectures on video and doing the homework online and says: “We had invested early on in technology such as peer grading which allows more open-ended exercises to be offered to students (such as asking students to write essays). This has enabled us to offer a broad range of courses in the humanities, the social sciences, the basic sciences, engineering, business, law, medicine, and other areas.”
Even though Coursera itself does not grant degrees or credit towards completing the course, Ng notes that a few universities like the University of Washington and the University of Helsinki have offered or are considering offering credit for Coursera courses. So for now, the classes offered on Coursera are mostly a boon for those who just want to learn from some of the best and brightest in the world.
Although the universities partnering with Coursera have agreed to offer their courses are free, Ng made it clear that they are looking into finding ways of generating revenue. Once Coursera introduces a revenue model, Ng said they will share the revenue with their university partners.
Despite offering courses from world-renowned universities for free at the moment, Coursera faced trouble with the state of Minnesota last week because a law there calls for universities to register before offering courses in the state.
Still in its infancy, Coursera gives students the chance to learn from the most prestigious universities without spending a dime. Since the best things in life aren’t free, Coursera will have to find innovative ways of keeping the free-learning model while also finding a way to bring in revenue.