Coursera, an organization that provides a platform for free college and university courses online, created a stir when, seemingly in one fell swoop, it added a dozen more schools to its roster.
Signing on to offer selected topics through the platform were Georgia Tech, Duke University, University of Washington, Caltech, Rice University, University of Edinburgh, University of Toronto, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, Johns Hopkins University (School of Public Health), University of California San Francisco, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Virginia. Already on board are University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, University of Michigan, Stanford University, and an institution in France.
Some in academia, including this commentary in Inside Higher Education, viewed the announcement as validation that MOOCs (massive open online courses) are no longer a novelty but a genuine game-changer for postsecondary institutions. But it’s not clear exactly how they will change the educational playbook.
The Atlantic provided an inside peek at how an instructor approaches a MOOC, noting that many of those who take the courses already hold degrees, maybe even advanced degrees. These students aren’t necessarily seeking another diploma, though possibly they do want some sort of formal acknowledgment they successfully completed the course, which is something Coursera can provide. A certificate would come in handy for resumes or performance reviews.
Some course-takers are instructors themselves, maybe checking out the “competition” or looking to crib a few ideas for their own classes. Coursera’s course list, at least for now, is heavy on science-related disciplines. No doubt that’s where the demand is.