Back to school online

Coursera, a revolutionary new online learning platform developed by two Stanford University computer scientists, now has a Canadian partner in the University of Toronto.

The prestigious Canadian university joins the ranks of Princeton, Michigan and many other universities that have partnered up with the Stanford based program that requires no entrance exam or prerequisites — and no tuition.

The revolutionary program aims to bring education to the masses so those who can’t afford the exorbitant tuition fees — especially in the United States where tuition is 5 to 10 times higher than here in Canada — can still have access to quality education.

Coursera is just one of many online platforms with this goal in mind. Harvard and MIT have a similar program called edX, a joint venture that offers their own courses online.

Although online courses are nothing new, there has never been this kind of massive interest in them until now. Almost 155,000 people signed up for MIT’s first offering, and Stanford’s program received 137,000 enrollments (two thirds from outside the United States). The professor offering the course was only expecting to draw around 500. The course was so difficult that only 3,000 people completed it and passed, but it still made them realize the incredible demand for this kind of learning.

Some say this is the future of education — that like with music (iTunes), television and film (Netflix) — it will move online in a big way. This kind of free education opens doors for people of any age, in any country, to access education from their homes without having to worry about the fully immersive university experience you are less likely to be interested in later in life.

As students now grow up online, it makes sense that their education would also happen on the internet. Of course some, particularly those in the education establishment, feel there is no replacement for the value of face-to-face learning at an institution — and certainly a degree from MIT means a lot more than a certificate of completion from Coursera — but for those looking to increase their knowledge and skills, or to simply learn something new for fun, this is an incredibly valuable opportunity.

Sources: Coursera, Phys, The Globe and Mail

Photo © Brad Calkins

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