Free Classes from Major Universities, on Coursera

There is a web site that is slowly growing, slowly getting bigger, and slowly changing the face of on line education.  It is a “social entrepreneurship” company that had the idea to partner with major colleges to offer classes free on line to anyone who wanted to take them. It’s getting bigger, it’s getting more prestigious, and now it’s on the verge of complete legitimacy, as these free classes may start counting for real college credit.

Coursera offers free classes from major universities, photo by palphy on flickr

Coursera offers free classes from major universities, photo by palphy on flickr

The company is Coursera. And while you might not have heard of it, you have definitely heard of some of its partner universities: University of Florida, Johns Hopkins University, UC Irvine, Caltech, Wesleyan University, Columbia University, University of London, and a little school named Princeton. And that’s just to name a few.

Coursera provides classes from these institutions to the whole of the internet community. Coursera students have access to the same class materials, videos of course lectures, and assignments. It bases its courses on “pedagogical foundations” and “mastery learning” – meaning that the intent is not mere memorization, but the understanding of new concepts and ideas and of committing these ideas to long term memory. In short, this is a site that wants to open up the amazing world of college learning to anyone, and they want to do it the right way, to enhance the knowledge of everyone involved.

With their revolutionary website, Coursera is taking top tier college courses previously available to dozens, and making them available to thousands, perhaps even millions. Right now there are over two and half million Coursera students, and its constantly growing.

As it stands right now, these classes do not reward students with college credit. They are free, and therefore offer something for nothing (education and knowledge do count as “something”), but now the American Council on Education is officially recommending that some of these courses should grant college credit to all who complete them.

The five classes receiving this recommendation are: Single Variable Calculus (University of Pennsylvania), Introduction to Genetics and Evolution (Duke University), Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach (Duke University) College Algebra (University of California Irvine) and Pre-Calculus (UC Irvine).

Coursera is planning to petitioning the American Council on Education to recommend more classes for credit in the near future.

Having free distance learning classes from Duke and Princeton available to everyone is an amazing find. Even without college credit being awarded for every class, think of the opportunity this presents for the building of personal knowledge.  Now an aspiring entrepreneur can take a ten week long Start Up Engineering course from prestigious Stanford University, or a five week Smart Growth for Private Business class from the University of Virginia.

If these classes are all eventually available for full credit, it could quite simply change the way distance learning is viewed. But even if they aren’t, consider this as a prime example of how to use the internet to improve your mind. It turns out the web has a lot more to offer than cat memes.

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