Want a top-notch university education but unable to commute the thousands of kilometers to one of the world’s best universities—including Stanford, Brown, Columbia and Princeton in the United States and Scotland’s University of Edinburgh and the University of Toronto in Canada? Or perhaps you’re lacking the $54,000+ (about 41,700 euro) that some of those universities estimate it costs to enroll for this academic year alone.
Well, it may not be exactly the same—you can pretty much forget about getting course credit for the moment—but MOOCs—or massive open online courses—are reshaping higher education in the age of the Internet. Earlier this month, Coursera became the biggest MOOC of all (others include edX and Academic Earth), when more than a dozen American and international universities joined their online network of free courses.
The California-based start-up founded last year by two Stanford University computer scientists now offers more than 200 courses to anyone who can access the internet. (And according to a report released this week by the UN’s International Telecommunications Union, one-third of the world’s population is now online.)
Online education 101
Some 33 educational institutions offer courses from philosophy to mathematics to poetry and guitar lessons—including new partners John Hopkins University, the Berklee College of Music and EPF Lausanne in Switzerland. And there’s currently an astounding 680,000 registered students from 190 countries.
With almost 81,000 “likes” on Facebook and comments from followers like Jabar Mhemed Salih, who wrote, “Education for Everyone. Courses from top universities for free.كؤرساتي كمبيوتر بؤ هه مو ان . بئ به رام به ر,” it appears that Coursera is reaching out to the masses worldwide, which is its goal.
Academics, experts and pundits can debate the benefits and pitfalls of taking education out of the classroom, the future of “brick and mortar” institutions and what online education will look like when the institutions involved start to monetize. But as Coursera founders Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng point out in a recent Forbes article, for millions of people worldwide, the choice isn’t between attending traditional classes or taking them online, but “between online education and no education at all.”
The statistics they present (culled from the World Bank) are sobering: college enrollment in Africa is currently at six percent, only about one in 10 of Nigerians who want to can actually attend college due to lack of space, and in Central Asia, while the majority of people complete high school, less than half of those who do continue on to university.
Coursera’s founders are hoping to change that, making education “a fundamental human right.” As the new academic year gets underway, several classes began this week, including courses on organizational and data analysis, Greek and Roman mythology and an introduction to logic. But it doesn’t take much logic to reason that expanding the university classroom to include internet cafes in Nairobi or student unions in Beijing is an A-plus idea.