Education for All: How “Coursera” is Quietly Changing the Face of Academia

How would you like to listen to lectures and participate in assignments and discussions led by professors from Stanford, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania, without the crushing costs of top university fees? A new start-up named “Coursera” is offering just that. Completely free to anyone who signs up, Coursera boasts hundreds of courses in over three dozen categories of study, everything from computer science to literature.

The impetus for the start-up company was formed when Professor Andrew Ng of Stanford University offered his machine-learning class to the entire world for free and over 100,000 people signed up.

What sets Coursera offerings apart from other lectures that have been made available to the general public is the fact that you can actually participate and gauge your success just like students who are indeed enrolled in these top tier institutions. Coursera participants are assigned homework and are given assessments, Ng explains. Discussions are monitored by teaching assistants, other students and the professors. Quizzes are scored online. Thousands have succeeded in “passing”  the classes offered. While you do not accrue credit for these classes, you do have the satisfaction of studying with the best of the best.

Coursera was formed after Ng’s first online machinery class. He then teemed up with fellow Stanford professor Daphne Koller to bring the now-hundreds of courses to the general public. So far, two venture capitalists have invested $15 million dollars in the company.

So what will you choose? “Modern and Contemporary American Poetry” from the University of Pennsylvania with Professor Al Filreis? How about “A History of the World Since 1300” from Princeton with Professor Jeremy Aldeman? Or maybe “Game Theory” from Stanford with Professor Matthew O. Jackson and Professor Yoav Shoham strikes your fancy?

See the entire list of course offerings here. You can listen to the NPR report about Coursera here.  See you in class!