Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Coursera, College, and the On-line Learning Revolution

Skyrocketing college costs are clashing with the ever-increasing demand for college degrees, and everyone from parents to college presidents are wondering what's going to give.  Certainly, the demand for college degrees won't lessen, as employers will continue to rely on them as screening systems, and no nation wants to see its educational credentials lessen, as they are the benchmark for success and high standards of living.  And neither colleges nor governments have revealed any ability or even intention to decrease costs.  However, there may be another way, as the university system is being subverted from within.  It's all beginning with a neat little start-up called Coursera.

"Welcome to the college revolution," writes Thomas Friedman in the New York Times this week, as he analyzes the increasing trend of online education.  Notably, colleges like Stanford and MIT have begun putting their entire curriculum and syllabi online, granting access to the information to all, if not granting the actual degree.  That may change, though, or at least morph into a new credential with the offering of certificates of completion from universities.  That is the brainchild of Andrew Ng, computer science professor at Stanford who taught his entire class last semester to 100,000 online students.  This idea lead to the creation of a Coursera, an organization funded by venture capital which is devoted to offering university education, or at least certifications from major universities.  Coursera, which can be found and accessed through, is offering full courses and certificates of completion from Princeton, Michigan, Penn, and Stanford.

This revolutionary idea is what Vincent Carroll of the Denver Post calls "the online challenge to college costs."  Carroll joins Friedman and David Brooks of the New York Times in revealing and promoting hope for greater university access at decreased cost through the use of internet classes.  Now, certainly, this idea isn't new.  The University of Phoenix has been offering such courses for decades - though with questionable results and far less credibility than Michigan or the Ivy League.  And from Coursera, the certificate will be every bit as valuable as the Phoenix degree for much less cost.  While there will always be demand for actual seat space at the major universities - and there is little doubt about the added value of sitting among colleagues in a classroom learning - Coursera as an idea may grant the necessary access to counter the emphasis on degrees which are increasingly a financial burden first.

And, who's to say that if a person can complete all the necessary coursework for a degree, he is any less qualified for a job as an accountant or attorney or engineer or computer technician or financial adviser.  Of course, as I've noted before, let's keep the doctors and nurses on campus with some hands on training.  For there are many skills and experiences that Coursera simply can't replicated online.  However, the on-line changes to education are exciting and filled with potential, even as the kinks in the road must be ironed out through trial and error.  For a more thorough examination of the situation that led to the rise of Coursera, as well as alternatives to the issue that preceded Coursera, you must also take the time to check out Anya Kamenetz's book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education.  Kamenetz's book, which followed her timely debut work Generation Debt, offers a thorough analysis of the higher ed paradigm - and paradigm shift.  Her website is worth checking out as well.

Look for more and more talk of Coursera, which might be able to do for higher ed what Sal Khan and the Khan Academy have done for all education.

Coursera, coming up.


Jordan said...

Also, for those computer nerds out there, is a great online education site.

Knowpronto said...

Online learning increase the quality of learning experience.Online learning providing flexible access to content and instruction at any time from any place.Thanks for sharing the useful and important information about online education.

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Marky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marky said...

Well, if you really are planning to get an accredited degree online, you should find the best school for it first.