Written by: Stephanie Hsieh
Coursera.org, an independent educational technology company founded by two Stanford professors, is using online learning to bring free higher education courses to students all over the world…for free.
Coursera partners with universities from throughout the world, including multiple Ivy League institutions. Professors from partnered universities create the courses, which cover everything from Computer Science to History. Courses are offered to students free of charge and taught primarily through video lectures. Quizzes, assignments, and peer assessments are also submitted online. Given the ease and range of courses that can be offered through Coursera’s system the website almost seems too good to be true. Indeed, some experts are cautioning that a potential down side to Coursera’s educationl offerings is that it’s unclear whether online learning is as effective as the traditional face-to-face kind.
Even so, there is evidence that those worried about the quality of online education need worry no longer. In September 2010 the US Department of Education released a detailed report that analyzed the results of 45 published studies on the subject and concluded there was convincing evidence that at the very least online learning could be, on average, as effective and learning face-to-face. Hybrid methods that combine both online and face-to-face components have been shown to be even more effective than using either method alone.
Another potential down side to Coursera is that not all courses offer certificates of completion. This means that despite completing a course, students may not be able to prove to future employers or academic officials that they have taken and completed. However, this too may soon no longer be a problem as universities are beginning to incorporate Coursera offerings into their curriculum. Just this month Antioch University, a private liberal arts institution based in Washington that has campuses in five states, began allowing Coursera courses to be taken by its students for college credit. The University of Washington, a public research university also based in Washington state, has also stated its intentions to allow Coursera courses to be take for credit by its students, as long as further requirements are met.
All of this is just the beginning of Coursera’s enormous potential as an educational game-changer. Technological advances are improving the delivery platform for online courses and allowing for greater personalization of material. These advances are also allowing educators to gather enormous amounts of data on how their students learn, the analysis of which will allow them to fine tune and improve the learning experience. One thing is absolutely certain about Coursera: with over a million students from 196 countries enrolled in over a hundred courses, the website proven that people around the world are eager for a way to broaden their higher education experience.
Coursera doesn’t intend to stop there. It has expansion in mind as it intends to partner with more schools, widening the range of courses offered even more and bringing more accredited institutions into the fold of online learning. With all this in mind it seems that Coursera, and websites like it, may be on the road to changing the face of higher education as we know it.