Coursera on-line classes and the future of learning…

Ten years from now a “college education” is going to look radically different from when I went to school. And I think that’s a good thing, especially when you consider the skyrocketing costs of “higher education” and the miserable job market that recent graduates have faced.

This all started for me when I first saw MIT’s Open Courseware and then when Standford offered a few Computer Science courses on-line. I had actually signed up for Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning class but never made time in my schedule to participate. Since then, Andrew and Daphne Koller have kicked things up a notch by starting Coursera. They’ve built a platform that allows instructors to distribute their courses to many, many people on-line at a very low cost.

If you haven’t seen it, take a minute and browse the list of courses. There are 124 at the time of this writing, and that’s up from just a few weeks ago. I’ve already signed up for several (check my Coursera Profile), one of which starts tomorrow.

By figuring out how to make great instruction available to literally millions of people worldwide every year, and solving some of the harder problems associated with class sizes that are a factor of 100 more than what most instructors are using to handling (even with Teaching Assistants), Coursera is on to something–something potentially quite big.

I think the institution of college is about to undergo some very interesting changes. Few of us are able to predict the final outcome, but it’s going to be very interesting to watch–and maybe even more interesting to actually participate! Both Kathleen and I have signed up for some classes. I’m really looking forward to expanding my Computer Science and Programming horizons a bit and trying out a new style of learning and participation.

It’s worth watching Daphne’s TED Talk: what we’re learning from on-line education. I found some very surprising (and inspiring) ideas in there. Coursera is a very promising experiment in education.

About Jeremy Zawodny

I'm a software engineer and pilot. I work at craigslist by day, hacking on various bits of back-end software and data systems. As a pilot, I fly Glastar N97BM, Just AirCraft SuperSTOL N119AM, Bonanza N200TE, and high performance gliders in the northern California and Nevada area. I'm also the original author of "High Performance MySQL" published by O'Reilly Media. I still speak at conferences and user groups on occasion.
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6 Responses to Coursera on-line classes and the future of learning…

  1. Pingback: Opportunities to Learn for FREE! | How To Eat And Live

  2. David Zotter says:

    You are entirely right. Our courses at BGSU will look like ancient history in 10 to 20 years. In many ways, the content of these online courses surpasses what we had in person.

  3. Mark Nichols says:

    I agree that interactive online courses are the way of the future. They certainly lend themselves to scale (the Scala course I’m starting with you tomorrow has 30K students). I especially like the insight such large populations will give teachers. One or two students out of 30 or 50 or 100 missing a question is negligible. Several thousand missing it draws attention to a potential mismatch between the message intended and actually received.

  4. Pingback: Coursera: opening doors « Malcolm Bellamy's Lifelong Learning Blog

  5. Pingback: Coursera: Free Higher Education! « pressformore

  6. James says:

    I’ve started taking a Coursera class and I can safely say that it’s not the future. In fact it’s more of the same low quality classwork you would get at a college. Lots of powerpoint presentations in video form with projects thrown at you without any sort of real explanation of how to achieve the end result. And yet at any time you can go to youtube and and get very useful coursework with instructors that will give you a full understanding of both the software or course your taking as well as the underlining structure and methods you’ll need to create proper work styles.

    I’ve spent 20 hours fo far in my Coursera class and am fairly frutrated, sure I did the two tests and my assigment and got a A but I’m tired and didn’t learn the why or how I got the problems to work and whats worse I’m faced with starting it up all over again for next week. the biggest problem was that in order to solve my assignments for the final quiz I had to watch videos and read up for hours elsewhere on how to do the simple tasks that the actual course I’m taking should have supplied me with.

    If this is the future in learnign they can keep it…

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