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Coursera: Top Universities Free Online
Last week, online education startup Coursera added twelve new university partners and raised an additional $6 million, bringing its funding to more than $22 million.
Coursera is a free online education platform offering interactive college courses. The intent of the year-long venture is to offer courses from leading universities to the public free of charge. Last Tuesday, their dream came true or started to come true.
That day, a dozen major universities – CalTech, Duke, University of Virginia, Georgia Tech, University of Washington, Rice, Johns Hopkins, University of California San Francisco, University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne, University of Toronto, University of Edinburgh and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland announced their partnership with Coursera. Coursera was already working with Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan.
Coursera is one of many emerging initiatives. Other high-profile free online college startups include Harvard-MIT edX and Udacity joint project.
“I like to compare it to the movies,” Sebastian Thrun told Education News. Thurn is a Stanford professor and founder of Udacity. “Before movies, there were movie theatres, small casting companies reaching 300 people at a time. Then celluloid was invented, and you could record something and play it back. A good movie didn’t reach 300 but 3,000, and soon 300,000, and soon three million. It changed the economy.”
While Udacity is only offering 11 courses so far, Coursera partner universities will be offering over 100 courses this fall. Four of the classes started on Monday: Listening to World Music, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Internet History and Introduction to Finance. The courses, called MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, can reach many more people than a traditional course; they are capable of teaching more than 100,000 students at a time, according to The Atlantic.
This number will only increase as they start translating their courses and offering courses in different languages, which they have started to do. EPF Lausanne has started to offer courses in French. Their “Introduction to Object Programming”, or Introduction to Object Programming, will be offered this fall.
Earning opportunities for Coursera could involve job placement services or charging students for certificates from partner universities. The certificates, which could be pdf documents or badges shareable on social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+, would be branded with the name of the university and sold to students. So far, only one university has said it will offer course credit – the University of Washington. For others, the certificate would only mean completion of the course.
Other sources of revenue Coursera is considering include having students pay to take verified identity tests at specified testing locations, an option that would enhance the certificate’s value to the class by confirming that the student has learned the information himself and did not cheat.
Coursera also plans to offer services such as paid tutors, recruiting advertising sponsorships, and the ability to charge tuition to offer online courses on college campuses. The latter option is already materializing through their partnership with the University of Washington, according to the Chronicle.
Coursera pledges to pay universities 6-15% of their revenue, while they will keep 20% of gross profits. The site will be an opportunity for universities to make themselves known to the community and to learn and improve their own experience of offering education online without having to develop the technological infrastructure themselves. Another important point: universities that design courses for Coursera will retain the rights to their work.
For now, however, the university’s financial contribution to the company remains a risk. However, it is also potentially a significant investment, for them and for the future of education itself. The Atlantic considers the Coursera initiative “the most important experiment in higher education”.
“Lectures started hundreds of years ago when there was only one copy of the book, and the only person who had it was the professor,” said Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller at The Atlantic. “The only way to convey the content was for the teacher to stand at the front of the room and read the book. Hopefully we have better abilities these days.”
However, as to whether Coursera will ever become a competitor for the traditional universities that deliver its courses, fellow co-founder Andrew Ng thinks it won’t. The real value of attending elite schools like Caltech, he told The Atlantic, is the time spent working directly with faculty and fellow students. Ng thinks Coursera gives schools the ability to improve that interaction by bringing their courses online.
Dr. Edward Tenner, a historian of technology and culture, suggests that easy access to quality college-level online education will increase competition for places at top traditional colleges. Others, meanwhile, wonder what might happen to traditional non-Ivy League schools. According to Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School and an expert in disruptive innovation, half of North American higher education will move online in the next ten years, followed by kindergarten through 12th grade by 2019.
While the world of online education is still developing, initiatives like Coursera are major steps towards a free, quality public college education available to all. 360 Education Solutions is excited about this innovative step in online education and hopes to bring you more information soon.
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