I’ve recently started my first attempts at taking online classes via Coursera and I’m quite enjoying it. I’ve done other online courses, mostly through Open University but this is different. For one thing, Coursera is free.
For those who haven’t heard, Coursera (www.coursera.org) is an online, free, website that offers university level courses taught by university professors (or at least lecturers) around the world. While it lacks the cohesive syllabus of a university, it does allow for some top-quality courses in a wide variety of fields.
The site is set up very well, both in searching for courses to take, and in the execution of the courses themselves. Each course, which runs from approximately 5-12 weeks depending on the course, is taught through a series of videos, with short, ungraded excercises implanted to help you understand the concepts. Some courses have other excercises for each video, or assignments every 1-x weeks. The course dashboards are easy and intuitive and many also access a partner service that allows you to read the textbook for free (for the duration of the course). Of course there are the forums for interaction within the class and with tutors — necessary due to the often 10,000s of students in each course.
Both courses I’m currently taking (Learn to Program, taught by the University of Toronto, and Reasoning and Arguing, taught by the University of Duke) have over 50,000 students registered. Although some stats indicate a high drop-off rate. That is, around 20 – 40% of the students continue with the course into the second week. Still, that’s on the order of 10,000 students!
The beautiful thing about Coursera is that it’s free, high-quality education. The weakness is a lack of acreditation, so most learning is for personal knowledge or to support other formal (certificate-oriented) learning. However, each course successfully completed does grant an acreditation by the site and some courses access an verification system that, for only $40 a class, will grant a higher level acreditation.
Overall, I’m very much enjoying my Coursera experience so far. Perhaps a bit too much. As I mentioned earlier, I’m currently taking two courses, with another due to start in two days, and two more around the beginning of October! It’s almost like being back in school again — only more fun and you can work at your own pace.
It’s a great idea and a great site and I not only hope it manages to continue well into the future, but that it sets powerful trend in education. The only negative I see is that, if Coursera is truly successful, universities will have to adapt to a new education model and, specifically, alternate income, as undergrads go online to learn.
Insight and longevity.