Online education supernova Coursera just announced that it will offer students verified certificates of completion of some of its courses. The identities of students will be verified throughout the course using methods like holding up a photo ID to a webcam and biometric analysis of the student’s typing style. The company will charge a fee for certificates (Coursera’s courses are free) and certs will not count towards college credit. Students who cannot pay for certifications can apply for financial assistance.
The courses offering certificates are the following but this list is expected to expand rapidly:
- UCSF’s Nutrition for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
- UCSF’s Clinical Problem Solving
- Duke’s Introduction to Genetics and Evolution
- Georgia Tech’s Computational Investing, Part I
- Illinois’ Microeconomics Principles
You can tell that an online service is going mainstream when all three of my sisters (none of whom has the slightest interest in technology) have not only heard of Coursera but have signed up. The company had 1 million users after four months in business, a faster rate of growth than Facebook or Twitter in the early days.
Now in business for a year, the site has 2.2 million students (I am one of them. I took co-founder Andrew Ng’s 3-month Machine Learning course) and offers 213 courses from 33 top universities. It’s not all IT and business either, although the Introduction to Finance course is the site’s most popular with 130,000 enrolments. The Modern World: Global History since 1760 recently had 70,000 takers and “Modern & Contemporary American Poetry“, boasted 33,000 students. One third of students come from the U.S followed by India, Brazil, Russia, Canada and the UK.
Coursera addresses some of the biggest problem in education: the lack of capacity in many areas of the world, the soaring cost of university education in Western countries and the drop-out rate in the U.S, which can have serious financial consequences for students.
A couple of months ago I talked to co-founder (and Stanford professor) Daphne Koller about the company. “If you don’t complete your degree your return on investment is negative, ” Koller stated. “It’s important to give people the opportunity to made headway in a low-cost, low-risk way.” In fast-growing economies like India and Brazil where tradition institutions simply cannot scale to meet the demand for graduates, education may take on completely new forms. “Some of those countries will leapfrog brick and mortar institutions in the way that those countries have leapfrogged landlines and moved directly into cellular,” says Koller.
The teaching revolution won’t just happen abroad. Online education will also change education on-campus. “In 10 years or sooner we will look back at the days when we shoveled 300 students into an auditorium to lecture at for 3 hours a week as ‘Wow! I can’t believe we actually did it that way.’ ”
Koller told me that teaching online and offline are completely different paradigms with different strengths. Trying to replicate face-to-face teaching online was never going to work. Online courses have flexible timetables and operate on a different scale. Scale can actually be an advantage online since students form diverse and cooperative communities which help each other to learn. From this point of view “Larger classes are, in fact, better than smaller ones,” Koller explains.
Coursera already brings in some revenue from licensing its content to Universities and putting companies in touch with its top students for recruitment but although the company has raised $16 million in funding, Koller still sees it as primarily a social enterprise whose objective is educating the world. “In 3 years I would like to offer most of the curriculum in most disciplines, from the best universities, to everyone around the world for free. Wouldn’t that be really cool?”
Comments are disabled on this post