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The Possible Future of Online Education

  1. Jul 17, 2012 #1
    This website has been mentioned one or two times throughout the forum, never in detail, but only as a recommendation to somebody.

    The website is called Coursera, and it currently offers 111 courses (recently updated, and continues growing) from colleges like California Berkely, Caltech, Champaign-Urbana, Princeton, Stanford, John Hopkins, Rice, Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, etc. etc.

    The potential quality of these courses is exciting. Most haven't begun yet (most will start once the normal school year starts), but it seems almost as if more and more colleges are adding more and more courses every week, with the hopes of maybe getting their name out there, or, who knows, maybe some of them want to actually educate the public for free.

    As of now, the courses are entirely free (as just mentioned), but you get no college credit for completing a course. Now, with that said, you do get a certificate upon completion, and you can get a "Completion with Distinction" certificate if you do well in the various exercises and final test. Besides the paper showing that you did something productive on the internet, you are also raking in free knowledge from high-standing colleges.

    They currently cover classes in "Humanities, Medicine, Biology, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Business, Computer Science, and many others."

    The purpose of this thread, besides educating you about something that I am personally excited for, is this: Does online education have a chance? And if so, is Coursera that chance?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2012 #2


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    I think coursera is in it to make money. NPR had a radio podcast on it where they said some colleges accept coursera certificates for transfer course credits, but curiously the member universities do not.

    It got me to thinking that maybe its part of their business model so that the member universities don't lose tuition money for courses their exporting to coursera online.

    Kind of reminds me of Hulu and how they were free and then slowly selected shows were available on Hulu+ only.
  4. Jul 17, 2012 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    Also I think for profit will probably destroy its effect just as textbook makers make books that are too busy with pictures, side notes and other distractions.

    I wonder too if advertising will somehow get into the course mix.
  5. Jul 17, 2012 #4
    Regardless of their intentions (which I don't see to be nearly as sinister as your implications might suggest), they're still giving out quality education for free, from credible colleges and professors.

    As of now, they have several key funders, so resorting to advertisements shouldn't be an issue. (Besides, this website has advertisements, and you can hardly notice them).
  6. Jul 17, 2012 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    I'm just thinking of the recent problems with for profit universities where students are recruited and then persuaded to get student govt loans to pay for their education only to discover their degree from the for profit is less than it was advertised as and now they are saddled with loans they cant repay.

    Will the for profit online ventures squeeze out the salman khan's of the future?
  7. Jul 18, 2012 #6


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    UK universities are also joining in Coursera. Arguably the UK was one of the pioneers in this, with the Open University foumded in the 1960s. Back then it was delivering lectures to home students using overnight TV and radio broadcasts (so the entry criterion was basiicaly "are smart enough to program your video recorder"!) Of course anybody could watch/listen to that materal for free, but enrolling on the courses and getting a recognised qualification was not free.

    It's interesting to see the "drop out rate" from one of the first MIT courses:
  8. Jul 18, 2012 #7
    I wouldn't be surprised that people vastly overestimated how difficult it would be. For example, I could go ahead and take an Analytic Combinatrics class if I wanted to, maybe thinking that it would be fun, but I would soon realize that I was in way over my head, because I haven't even taken Calculus yet.

    I've at least tried to be realistic, and have signed up only for an Introduction to Logic class (only prerequisite is high school Algebra) and an Introduction to Mathematical Thinking (recommends that you be 17+ years old, besides that, no prerequisites).
  9. Jul 18, 2012 #8
    I've signed up for a few classes as well.

    Motives aside, a free education from some of the best schools in the world? You will hear no complaints from me. Who cares if you don't receive university credit? The overall goal is to learn...

    Colleges have a social responsibility to educate and empower people, especially if they have a means to do so. I am excited to see how it all unfolds.
  10. Jul 19, 2012 #9


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    It will be interesting to see how the online stuff plays out in the times to come with regards to reputation and credibility of actual recognition of online courses whether paid or unpaid in any capacity.

    Personally I see a shift in learning and with things like the internet, it doesn't matter if its an academic trying to find a paper, or a layman trying to learn how to take apart a car for restoration, the paradigm for learning in general is changing and I think it's wonderful.
  11. Jul 19, 2012 #10


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    I echo the sentiments of those who advocate knowledge for its own sake. Free tutoring from experts cannot be a bad thing for personal development.
  12. Jul 19, 2012 #11


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    My statistics skills are rusty so I signed up for a stat class this fall. I'm curious to see how it works out.

    I'd like to see other PFers' opinions of the classes they take there.
  13. Jul 19, 2012 #12
    I'm halfway through ST101: Stats and CS215: Algorithms at Udacity, another one of these online education sites - it's actually run by Sebastiun Thrun who ran the AI course out of Stanford last year, but he left and started his own site, and I think Coursera is run by the Stanford people?

    Aaaanyway, these are my 3rd and 4th Udacity courses, I took CS101: Search Engine and CS253: Web Application Engineering earlier this year, and I've learned a ton of cool stuff. I'm most of the way through a 'proper' CS undergrad, so it's been a great way to reinforce the basics as well as getting my hands dirty with stuff that I haven't had time for at uni.

    I wouldn't rate the courses quite as highly as the ones I take at my brick'n'mortar institution, but for a 7 week online course they are fantastic way to supplement your education.
  14. Jul 21, 2012 #13
    I'm currently taking the quantum mechanics and quantum computation course there. I already know quantum mechanics but im taking the course to try an online course and to learn quantum computations.
    its a great thing no matter what the intentions of the schools are..
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