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Coursera: Dozens of Free, Massive, and Open Online Courses 101

Titus Andronicus writes "Professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng of Stanford University announced a major expansion in the catalog of free, massive, open online courses being offered by the company they founded, Coursera. The subject areas include computer science, mathematics, and business. The providers include Stanford, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. Even more courses are expected to be announced by competitors such as Udacity, MITx, Minerva, and Udemy — perhaps soon. Is this the future of education?"
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Coursera: Dozens of Free, Massive, and Open Online Courses

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  • Maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:07PM (#39748271) Homepage Journal

    It might not be the future of formal education; it lacks the cachet, the QA, the brand recognition.

    For studying for its own sake, perhaps.

    • Re:Maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:32PM (#39748533) Journal

      I think you are confusing a degree with education. Education can be had for free. A degree is part of a formal program. There is intersection but the two are not mutually inclusive.

    • Personally I've seen employers leaning away from formal educations as a way of determining a potential employees skill level. How many times have you seen someone get hired with all sorts of college education, come in and not have even the faintest hint of common sense? We've got a guy that has PhDs left and right... was even a college computer science professor in his last job. But just does stupid stuff, like write a program that sends out an email... but it never arrived. He didn't know why. I find out h
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Your one example is an IT mistake that many engineers could have possibly made. You must be working in IT. Have some more respect for the things that engineers do that are un-IT related. You may learn something new.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        What's wrong with riding a recumbent bicycle to work? Really, the only problem I can kind of see is that he could be sweaty when he gets in. Is that the only problem? As someone who plans to start biking to work, I'd like to know.

        • The problem here is more subtle than that: He's EXERCISING! And therefore is one of those non-geek jock types and clearly a fraud.
      • To make matters worse, he rides a recumbent bicycle to work. No lie.

        What's wrong with that?

      • by Thing 1 ( 178996 )

        To make matters worse, he rides a recumbent bicycle to work. No lie.

        I see what you did there. I won't take this recumbent bike lying down!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Free is a lot cheaper than college.
  • Part of It (Score:5, Informative)

    by englishknnigits ( 1568303 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:10PM (#39748303)
    I think the Khan Academy has a pretty good model. You can learn at your own pace at home and then get person to person (from teacher or fellow students) help the following day. Having the learning and exercises take place online lets teachers easily see how far each student got, how long they spent on each problem, etc. Having a really talented teacher prepare lectures online also helps alleviate the disparagement between education received by people with crappy teachers versus students who are blessed with good teachers.
    • KA is a good tutor, but as it only gives a broad generalization and two or three (unitless, usually) examples, it is almost useless for deeper understanding.
      • I talk about Khan as if it is a tool to get your feet under you, for this reason. You can take a small bite of a large apple, to see if it's something you want to spend a metric butt-ton of money on in an IRL campus. As far as specialization using Khan (and most other on-line academies), though? Not so much.
      • The Khan model will only improve with time. It will be better organized; logic trees will direct users on different learning paths and there will be a massive increase in example videos that will help people who are confused by particular points. This is the beginning of the end of factory-inspired, top-down bureaucratic style that has been the paradigm in the K-12 education for the last century. We will see a return of student/tutor learning, the rise of decentralized "home"/group schooling; and variant
        • by fwarren ( 579763 )

          Yeah, that is exactly the problem traditional educational institutions will have with it.

          One thing is this stuff does not change, mathematics, chemistry, biology, book keeping, etc really has not changed. A very good book and video lecture should be as good in 20 years as it is now. If they spend time improving and adding material instead of just ditching everything and going with new material every few years like your typical college program does, they will be able to build something incredible.

          It was only

    • by laejoh ( 648921 )
      Pity their course material is in Klingon, that's the only thing holding me back.
  • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:10PM (#39748309)

    Work == boring.
    College lectures == interesting. (Also audiobooks and infowars radio == interesting.)

  • by fiziko ( 97143 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:11PM (#39748319) Homepage

    I've tried to learn online, and I've tried to learn in a classroom. I've also tried to teach both ways. Nothing beats a teacher who can interact with a student in person. Now, this may transform teachers into the people who answer questions students have after watching the videos, and it can certainly expand the reach of quality courses to low income and low population areas, which is a good thing (because reaching more students is always a good thing) but some elements of our education system survive because they work.

    Now, in the long term, coupling this with live teachers and individualized, adaptive education content can really change the world...

    • Exactly, the current lecture based model is so antiquated it hurts. We have all this technology that can be used to make learning more available and easier, but unfortunately It'll probably take at least until the current generation of undergrads are the old crotchety professors before we see any real progress. "Back in my day we used to use the internet to learn things, you should WORK for your knowledge, not just get it for free though a mind meld!"
      • Exactly, the current lecture based model is so antiquated it hurts.

        And yet, some people learn better that way. You can ask a question as soon as it occurs to you and get an immediate answer instead of having to email something off and wait for a reply or post something in an online chat and hope there is someone there with an answer. Asking that question in a lecture can actually improve the lecture for other people, because if YOU have a question someone else probably has the same one, and the lecturer can actually deal with everyone at the same time. And he can expand o

        • Having gone through hundreds of pointless online corporate classes in my life, I thought like you, but I have tried one of these courses recently (Machine Learning, Standford) and I have to say that it is an incredible difference to what I have been exposed to in the past. Corporate online classes ire generally put together under some contract with minimal effort and thought put into how people actually learn material. Which is just as well, because most of the material is usually not worth learning.
          In cont

        • And yet, some people learn better that way.

          And some teachers teach better that way too. A good lecturer tailors his lecture to his audience. If she explains something and its apparent the class doesn't understand, she can try a different way of explaining. Or a student can ask a poignant question to clarify something. With a video, the lecture is set and if you don't understand something, you can watch the video as many times as you want but it will never be explained in a different way. With a video, the lecturer is talking to a camera, not a human

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          It seems likely that the video is useful as an adjunct to lecture at least. Prepping with video would allow a lighter lecture schedule where the lecturer can focus on the most difficult material and answering questions.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's not just the videos though that make this work. The discussion forums and other resources that surround the course offer additional help, opinions, and other resources. That's what really makes the courses useful and interesting.

      I took the Stanford AI course in the fall and the discussion groups were informal, scattered but pretty strong. This winter I took the Stanford D&A of Algorithms I course, and the forums were right there with the course material which was really helpful. If I've got que

    • The hardest hurdle I have in self learning is paying attention to the subject. If I'm in a classroom environment you have my undivided attention, but I've found that out of that environment it's way too easy to get distracted. It's nice to have a video that you can pause and come back to in these cases but you have to dedicate yourself to coming back to the video. That can be complicated by video services that don't allow picking up where you left off easily without having to scrub through the videos. M

    • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

      Is there good broadcast software that can handle this?

      Like, a teacher at the top of the screen and all of the other "students" below... and the teacher can zoom in on any student and share a whiteboard to help him with a problem.

    • Fiziko's experience is similar to my own. My opinion is that, yes, education models must change but trying to do away with live in-person teachers is a mistake. I also think that a formal lecture can help lay the foundation in a course upon which students can build.
  • by hamalnamal ( 2499998 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:12PM (#39748327)
    As I am about 50% self taught, very often I will want to learn about say "Probabilistic Graphical Models" but don't really feel like digging through all of the material out there to learn the basics before I can even think about understanding what articles and documents even say. This is one of the first free online courses sites I've seen that goes past "Hurr, Hurr, Learn what a variable is".
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Paywalled, but here is the first part of the article. If the URL works for you, great, if not, try searching Google News for a long phrase from this paragraph and hope the click-through works.
    --cut here-- []

    Online Education Venture Lures Cash Infusion and Deals With 5 Top Universities
    Published: April 18, 2012

    SAN FRANCISCO - An interactive online learning system created by two Stan

    • by SlashGordon ( 1127617 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @03:15PM (#39749061)
      What have we come to when the educational courses are free and the NY Times article telling you about them is behind a paywall?
      • by Thing 1 ( 178996 )
        Even better, a few days ago I got an overlay ad when I clicked a Google News link to NYT, which told me that this was the first of my ten free articles for the month. Yeah, like I'm going to start paying them for what Reuters and AP (ad nauseum) put out for "free" (to me).
      • What have we come to when the educational courses are free and the NY Times article telling you about them is behind a paywall?

        Most employers will care a lot of if you have a nice piece of paper that has "Stanford" and "Bachelor of Science" on it. They won't yet care as much if you took some random free online course. But, of course, to get the Stanford piece of paper, you need to shell out 6 figures.

        The "paywall" is in education too.

  • by babai101 ( 1964448 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:21PM (#39748427)
    Peter norvig is teaching us how to design computer programs in the udacity's CS212 course. Its really amazing to watch his simple and elegant codes and if we can take up his coding habits then that will really propel our programming skills. This kind of opportunity is really massive for me considering I'm studying at a university that is not even up to standards in my own country. Never even dreamt of being taught by a genious like peter.
  • by gazuga ( 128955 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:21PM (#39748429) Homepage

    And I can honestly say it was great. I learned a lot, and it was structured in such a way that I learned much more quickly than had I just gone out and purchased a book and tried to learn it on my own. The homework assignments were great too - more real-world than theoretical. Thinking back to college, I wish my classes then were more like the ML class. Perhaps it was because I was taking it merely for personal enrichment and wasn't at all stressed about homework, exams, grades, etc. but the class was very enjoyable. All of that, and it was free.

    Obviously I can't speak for these new class offerings with Coursera, but what have you got to lose? If nothing else, it's a great way to expand your horizons.

    • by rs79 ( 71822 )

      There's a whole bunch of these things out there, here's more: []

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I took this class, too. I've taken others from Coursera and Udacity. Dr. Ng's class was the only one worth taking. Why? Because it was the only one set up with concern that students were online and could not ask live questions or get live answer from an authoritative source. Dr. Ng anticipated a novice's questions, made sure to emphasize what was important, gave insights beyond the equations, let you slide if you didn't understand equations but did understand concepts, and arranged for homework that co

      • by Anonymous Coward


        I took the M.L. and A.I. classes in 2011, and the SaaS course this year through Coursera. I didn't find the 'attempts' at encouragement as condescending: it's hard to convey how genuine a compliment is in a video that's meant to be seen by thousands of people, so I just chalked up the cheeze to the wide audience. They were all excellent courses, but the Machine Learning course by Andrew Ng (and staff! Great work) was the shining example.

        An important aspect of the Machine Learning course was the

  • by LMacG ( 118321 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:23PM (#39748447) Journal

    I signed up for "Human-Computer Interaction" on 29 December. It's been indefinitely on hold since 6 March.

    Can't say I'm terribly impressed with what they've done so far

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Same thing on the "Computer Security" course. And coursera doesn't answer email, twitter, facebook.
      I know it's free, but I don't know if I start another course or wait the Computer Security one, because of the lack of information.

      Anyone with extra info?

  • Wow! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:24PM (#39748457) Journal

    I am so lucky to be living in this era. I have so much access to information and knowledge, more than the richest person of a century ago could even imagine. I did the Stanford AI thing, and despite not having time to really devote to it (I was pursuing a Master's at the time), it was a good experience. Now that I am through with the Master's I intend to sample from the buffet.

    We live in a wonderful era, tens of thousands of years of civilization and I think we are less than a century away from becoming a Type I civilization...

  • Every time we loosen up the dynamic interaction that happens between pupil / teacher or apprentice / master we loss the very thing that keeps us creative and innovative. It isn't just a one-way transaction people, it is what keeps us all learning. I believe the printing press lessened the quality of knowledge transfer, so I see this as again another form of dilution.

    • Then don't use it.

      Seriously, though, we'd all do better if we had a master in a field personally teach us. But guess what? That means only the uber-rich will have access. Today, a poor person in India has a shot at getting a decent education and using it to make a living. In your world only the top 1% would have access to higher learning. Sure it isn't the same as a personal relationship with a master, but it is much better than no access.

      So you can go back to your Greek world where only free property ownin

      • I believe you misunderstood my words (as most do in the absence of a true dialogue). I have attended both a university course in Machine Learning and taken Andrew Ng course. The online one was a great refresher but didn't dive as deep as the former. Great for an overview, but it won't make you a Computer Scientist or Quant. Unfortunately it makes some people feel like they are, only to be brutally disappointed when trying to communicate with "peers".

        Anyhow, I am not condoning social class, gender, or ra

        • Apologies for misconstruing what you said. I am very excited by these advances in education and see it as one of the pillars that a true world civilization will be built on. This is something I couldn't even have imagined 20 years ago and am flabbergasted by the progress I have seen in my lifetime...

    • Evidently, everyone was so much more knowledgeable before the printing press was invented.

  • I love this trend. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sixtyeight ( 844265 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:30PM (#39748511)

    I love this trend. Free online courses make perfect sense with the internet's information distribution model, and if the coursework can be properly accredited there's no reason to have to pay absurd sums to proprietary universities. Plenty of people have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get an education that was supposed to ensure they'd have a well-paying job, never mind that they'd had to mortgage the rest of their working lives to pay off the student loans. Now, they find they can't get work anyway.

    In addition to online courses, I think gameification would be such a great match with online learning. There are plenty of unemployed game designers and teachers; there's no reason they shouldn't pair up. Learning shouldn't be a chore; if we stop accepting the low standard that it's acceptable for it to be, we'll have a society where learning happens painlessly.

    There's also no reason online learning games couldn't lead directly to great jobs or cash incentives. Remember Rock Band and Guitar Hero? I kept waiting for a version that would gradually teach you to play an actual guitar. Pitch sensors would pick up the notes, and as your skill increased your online ranking would as well. The highest-ranking players could get a recording contract.

    It's not like the world is suffering a shortage of guitar players, but it's good proof-of-concept. There has to be a way to implement the various sciences and technologies into games; I spent hours playing CellCraft [] without realizing I was picking up basic cellular biology.

    • Remember Rock Band and Guitar Hero? I kept waiting for a version that would gradually teach you to play an actual guitar.

      Your wait is over []

  • Rough on the Adult (Score:5, Informative)

    by hagrin ( 896731 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:32PM (#39748537) Homepage Journal
    I'm a 33 year old homeowner with a full-time job and a LLC to do small consulting projects under. I have a fiance, a husky/samoyed/malamute mix and about a half acre of property to maintain now that it's spring time here in New York. I also have two small entrepreneurial ideas I am trying to subcontract out to some friends as a side project. I'm really well scheduled with my time and I decided to try and do 2 courses at once - Algo I and Cryptography.

    I made it two weeks.

    A problem set, a homework and at least 4.5 hours worth of video without even looking at the suggested texts that were outlined in the first set of videos - and that was one course (Algos). With 1 week deadlines, there is a serious time crunch that doesn't allow for much in the way of "unexpected happenstance" like when I needed to do some electrical rewiring in my kitchen or assemble 3 pieces of outdoor furniture. I fully admit that I bit off more than I could chew signing up for two courses. I also fully admit that I probably need to sacrifice something on my list above in order to free up more time, but I'm not sure I can bury the fiance in the backyard legally. However, I fully understand now why people say it's _really_ (read - not impossible) difficult to continue schooling once "real life starts".

    I wish the deadline schedule was a little more lenient although I do understand its purpose and I realize my outside commitments account for a large chunk of my problems. A little more leniency in the schedule would have really helped me "find the time".
    • by virgnarus ( 1949790 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:39PM (#39748625)

      I would not have felt compassion for your situation had you not of clearly defined the exact breed of canine you own. My condolences, and I wish the best for you.

      • by laejoh ( 648921 )
        Never even mind the slightly hidden reference to a certain general-purpose journaled file system!
    • Algo I and Cryptography.
      I made it two weeks.

      A problem set, a homework and at least 4.5 hours worth of video without even looking at the suggested texts that were outlined in the first set of videos - and that was one course (Algos).

      Protip: You dont need to sit through the lectures like your in the class. Upload them to your phone/ipod/ipad/laptop and watch when you are doing something or even listen to them in the car.
      Personally I watch them on one monitor _while playing World of Tanks_ on the other :o. 5 courses in parallel so far, passing all problem sets at >80% points.

    • by charlieo88 ( 658362 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @03:33PM (#39749279)

      I'm a 33 year old homeowner with a full-time job and a LLC to do small consulting projects under. I have a fiance, a husky/samoyed/malamute mix...

      Mixed marriage, is it?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I am taking the Crypto course myself right now... This is hard stuff...

      The Good:
      I am learning a lot of good stuff in this course, and already am able to apply the knowledge to my work life... The videos can be downloaded and played back offline. (Great if you ride the underground like I do each day.) In addition PDF and PPT versions of the lectures available in addtion to transscripts. The online forums are quite active. Lot's of 3rd party help available via Wikipedia and Google...

      The Bad:
      The Googl

    • I honestly tried the algorithms class and didn't get past the first video. I'm not a computer scientist. After the initial example problem where the professor was trying (poorly) to explain how you can break down multiplication and not immediately understanding his new algorithm, I stopped watching and went back to working on studying IMS deployment because its more directly related to my work (I'm a telecom network engineer by trade). I should probably have given it more of a chance, but if I'm drifting of
    • Just like it took Super Mario a good while to be able to fly (being able to fall without hurting yourself, that was just lazy coding mind you), online education will need some time before they realize there need not be the same constrains on a virtual classroom than on a real one. Good news is, over at Udacity they have got two feathers deadline free []. I'd expect more to follow, there and at Coursera.

      In the mean time, I'll make do with mushrooms and flowers.

  • same article without a paywall: post-gazette site []

  • by citizenr ( 871508 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:49PM (#39748739) Homepage []

    Online courses, substituting grades with gamification. []

    • Thanks for posting that video. That guy is clearly someone who is aware of how technology, the internet and approaching education socially can improve education, and is actually making it happen. For those that don't have time to watch the entire video (it's 53 minutes) the Puzzle Quest bit is in the last ten minutes, but I do think you need to watch the whole thing for the background, especially for the karma points aspect.
  • by Alex Belits ( 437 ) * on Friday April 20, 2012 @02:50PM (#39748745) Homepage

    Coursera (pronounced COR-sayr-uh), based in Mountain View, Calif., intends to announce that it has received financial backing from two of Silicon Valley’s premier venture capital firms, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and New Enterprise Associates.

    The founders said they were not ready to announce a strategy for profitability, but noted that the investment gave them time to develop new ways to generate revenue.

    In other words, THERE ARE NO PLANS TO GET ANY KIND OF REVENUE. "Investments" is the only money they are getting.
    It would be great as schools' internal project, or government-sponsored educational initiative. It may even work as a nonprofit charity until donors will start stuffing their own "courses" in it. But one thing that it is not, is a business.

    • It would be great as schools' internal project

      Which likely means it would also work well as an outsourced operation serving the various schools whose courses are provided. Which may be the eventual revenue model, especially if one views free courses as a form of marketing for the schools.

      • Which may be the eventual revenue model, especially if one views free courses as a form of marketing for the schools.

        That's a job for a few faculty members or consultants maintaining school's own site with those courses, not a business.

        • That's a job for a few faculty members or consultants maintaining school's own site with those courses, not a business.

          For one school. Of course, each school has a few courses, making the offerings fairly limited. Coursera can provide a more attractive destination for students with a wider variety of courses from different schools, which in turn draws more eyes to each school's courses. And, it lets the faculty members focus on the teaching part, and the business specialized in the delivery end (which can d

          • So the "business" is going to charge schools for KEEPING CONTENT FROM MULTIPLE SCHOOLS ON ONE WEB PAGE? I think, the same model was known as "portal site", and if it ever worked, it was obsoleted by search engines.

            I can see space for an open source product (so schools can use and develop it) and maybe a group of people acting as consultants (but I wouldn't recommend them to quit their day jobs for that). But a full-blown 1999-style dotcom? Seriously?

            • So the "business" is going to charge schools for KEEPING CONTENT FROM MULTIPLE SCHOOLS ON ONE WEB PAGE?


              Facilitating online course delivery is not just hosting content on a web page.

              I can see space for an open source product (so schools can use and develop it)

              Software isn't the only component here

              • "Facilitating online course delivery" is what one person working for a university can do in 5% of his time. Will this business run on $3000/y per school?

  • I'm about to graduate, finally, with a Master's in Computer Science. With that experience behind me, and the rising availability of these courses, I find it difficult to justify much of the bullshit I had to deal with over the past five years (worked full time, took classes part time, most of them lectures with homework). Many of my classes were taught by instructors who were more interested in research and getting grants than actually teaching to a student audience. Tuition went up every single year.

    I d

  • by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) * on Friday April 20, 2012 @03:40PM (#39749379) Homepage Journal

    I've been doing the crypto course with professor Boneh at Stanford.

    1) It's not easy. If you aren't up on number theory and discrete probability, you'll be learning it.
    2) It's not 'Khan Academy'. This is college level stuff.
    3) It's free.
    4) It's quite a bit of work to keep up on the homework and grok all the lectures.
    5) It's good. I've been doing crypto for a long time. I'm learning new things that are useful to my job.

    • by sgauss ( 639539 )
      I'm taking the same course. I'm probably spending 10-15 hours a week, and that's a challenge as like many I have a full time job, family, house and other responsibilities. The material is challenging and the class moves at a quick pace. Boneh is an excellent teacher which really does make a difference.
  • Great set of quality subjects on offer, but I'm wondering how they intend to sustain it in the long term; I'm guessing the current funders see it as a public-good project. It's a lot cheaper than offering class-room time, but there is still the hosting costs, the staff costs, and the time that the lecturers and grad students are putting into content and forum feedback. I hope they have a sustainable model, because it looks good so far.

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."