Saturday, May 12, 2012

It's a New World in Education with Free Online College Courses

Updated 10:35 p.m., Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Massively open online courses, or MOOCs, are growing. It's a good time to consider how they may change education.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced this month they have joined forces in a not-for-profit venture, edX, to offer free online versions of their classes.


Certificates of mastery will be available for those who demonstrate knowledge of course material, but not in either university's name.

EdX is not unique.

Stanford University computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng started last fall at Stanford, with two courses and 200,000 students.

Now it has more than a million enrollments for courses at Princeton University, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Pennsylvania.


There are discussions that one day a certificate of completion of an online course at a top school could be valuable when applying for a job.

Cosentino said she thinks what's important to an employer is how you come across, your experiences and your depth of knowledge, so no matter how many courses are taken, it still comes to how they affect you that will make the difference.


"They are doing the right thing by pushing the boundaries of brick and mortar."

EdX, which can be found at, is based on a platform MIT started last fall, MITx.

It offers online versions of MIT courses with video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback, student-ranked questions and answers, online laboratories and student-paced learning.


The edX website will start with MIT and Harvard content, then add courses of other universities interested in joining.

Anant Agarwal, who led the development of MITx, will be edX's first president. He said the goal is to educate one billion people around the world. Each university committed $30 million to the project.


News of free access to these courses is wonderful. Whether it's to expand personal knowledge, enhance a resume or build job skills, being able to take courses at top universities is a great opportunity for many, many people.

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