Last week, online education startup Coursera added twelve new university partners and raised an additional $6 million, bringing their venture funding to more than $22 million.
Coursera is a free online education platform that offers interactive college courses. The one-year company’s intention is to bring classes from top universities to the public for free. On Tuesday their dream came true, or started to come true.
On this day a dozen major universities: CalTech, Duke, University of Virginia, Georgia Tech, University of Washington, Rice, Johns Hopkins, University of California San Francisco, University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne, University of Toronto, University of Edinburgh and The Swiss Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne has announced its partnership with Coursera. Coursera was already working with Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan.
Coursera is one of several emerging initiatives. The Harvard-MIT joint project edX and Udacity are among other high-profile free online college startups.
“I like to compare it to the film,” Sebastian Thrun explained to Education News. Thurn is a Stanford professor and the founder of Udacity. “Before cinema, there were little theater casting companies that would reach 300 people at a time. Then celluloid was invented, and you could record something and replicate it. A good film wouldn’t reach 300 but 3,000, and soon 300,000 and soon three million This changed the economy.”
While Udacity offers only 11 classes so far, Coursera’s partner universities will offer over 100 courses this fall. Four lessons started on Monday: listening to world music, fantasy and science fiction, history of the Internet and introduction to finance. The courses, called MOOCs, or massive open online courses, can reach many more people than a traditional classroom; they are able to lecture more than 100,000 students at a time, according to The Atlantic.
That number will only increase as they start translating their courses and offer classes in different languages, which they have started to do. EPF Lausanne has started offering courses in French. Their “Introduction a la Programming Objet,” or Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming, will be offered this fall.
Earning opportunities for Coursera may involve career placement services or charge students for certificates from partner universities. The certificates, which can be PDF documents or badges that can be shared on social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+, would be branded with the university’s name and sold to students. For now, only one university has said it will offer tuition credit: the University of Washington. For others, the certificate would only mean course completion.
Other sources of income Coursera is considering include having students pay to take identity verification tests at specific testing locations, an option that would increase the value of the certificate to the class by confirming that the student has learned the skills. information by itself and did not cheat.
Coursera is also discussing offering services such as paid tutors, recruiting advertising sponsorships, and potentially charging tuition fees to offer online courses on college campuses. The latter option is already happening as part of their partnership with the University of Washington, according to the Chronicle.
Coursera agrees to pay universities 6 to 15 percent of their revenue, while they will keep 20 percent of gross profits. The site will be an opportunity for universities to introduce themselves to the community and learn about and improve their experiment of providing online education without having to develop the technology infrastructure themselves. Equally important: Universities that design courses for Coursera will keep the rights to their work.
For now, however, the university’s financial contribution to the venture is still a risk. However, it is also potentially a major investment, for them and for the future of education itself. The Atlantic considers the Coursera initiative “the single most important experiment in higher education.”
“Classes happened several hundred years ago, when there was only one copy of the book, and the only person who had it was the professor,” Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller told The Atlantic. “The only way to convey the content was for the professor to stand at the front of the room and read the book. It was hoped that today we would have better skills.”
However, if Coursera ever becomes a competition for the traditional universities that deliver its courses, co-founder Andrew Ng believes it won’t. The real value of attending elite schools like Caltech, he told The Atlantic, is the time spent working directly with professors and fellow students. Ng believes Coursera offers the potential for schools to enhance that interaction by putting their lessons online.
Dr. Edward Tenner, a historian of technology and culture, proposes that easy access to quality college-level online education will increase competition for spaces in traditional top-level colleges. Others, meanwhile, wonder what might happen to traditional non-Ivy League schools. According to Harvard Business School professor and disruptive innovation expert Clayton Christensen, half of North American higher education will move online in the next ten years, followed by K-12 by 2019.
While the world of online education is still developing, initiatives like Coursera are important steps towards free, quality public college education provided to all. 360 Education Solutions is excited about this innovative step in online education and hopes to provide you with more information soon.