A few weeks ago, I caught the end of an NPR story about a start-up called Coursera. I missed most of the information in the story, but I inferred that Coursera is an online learning platform. Like, where you can take full courses online. Cool, right? But then last Thursday I heard a follow-up story about it and was even more intrigued: Coursera is an online learning platform, but its partners aren’t just any old colleges. Coursera will be offering online courses from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, Stanford and Princeton. I checked out the website and there’s a range of course options, from computer science to poetry – all taught by professors from very prestigious universities.
But here’s the best part: the classes are all free.
That’s right, you and I can now sign up for Ivy League courses for free. There are lectures, assignments, tests, and quizzes – and grades are issued at the end of the semester. Apparently, the level of rigor is on par with that of each of the affiliated universities. The catch is that you don’t get actual credit for taking the course. So, if I take a Stanford computer science course and get an A (yeah right) then try to go enroll at Stanford, they won’t count that course towards my diploma.
I haven’t dug very deeply into the purpose behind Coursera. What motivation do the investors have for creating it? What motivation do the universities have for offering free courses? I’m not sure what the answer to those questions is. It’s obviously not that the founders of Coursera are trying to ease the burden of the expense of higher education for undergraduates – if you can’t get credit for the course, no one is getting closer to a degree. It’s also not just about continuing education for people currently in the workforce, otherwise they wouldn’t be offering poetry and sociology.
Regardless of the motives behind the creation of Coursera, I was curious enough to sign up for a course. That’s right, this fall I’ll be taking Greek and Roman Mythology from a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m really excited about it – I love taking classes, so I think this will be really fun. I’m skeptical that it will be at the same level of challenge as a “real” Penn course, but just being in a class – any type of class – will be so refreshing. Anyone want to join me?
What do you think about the concept of Coursera? Would you sign up for a course? What about online learning in general – what are your thoughts? Let’s talk about it!