Time To Give Online Education A Try August 12, 2012Posted by Metabiological in Social Media.
Tags: Coursera, online education
So I have just signed up for my first class in the growing world of online education. You’ve probably heard of this before; universities offering their classes for free online to anyone who wants to sign up. Depending on who you talk to it’s been touted as either the next great revolution in education, the death knell of traditional universities or both. Personally I like the idea and at the very least I think it has the potential to drastically change the face of undergraduate education though I stop short of saying it will end the need for so-called “brick and mortar” institutions. Anyone who’s been to grad school knows that classes are relatively unimportant.
Still it’s an innovative idea worthy of being tried so I decided to do just that. I have signed up for a course in Astrobiology, created by the University of Edinburgh, through a company called Coursera. Though a for-profit company Coursera is currently keeping all it’s classes for free and sounds like it intends to do so in the future as well. How they intend to make money is a question I leave to them though I’m skeptical they’ll be able to turn a profit using the advertising based method most other free online services use.
The class itself is 5 weeks long and doesn’t start till January 2013, which is a little odd if you ask me. If we’re going to use the convenience of the internet to bring higher education to the masses then keeping classes at certain times rather than allowing people to use them whenever they want strikes me as not making the best use of the technology, especially for science based classes where most of the grading is seemingly done by computer. Regardless I won’t be able to say anything about the service for several months so what can I say given what I’ve seen so far?
Well the first thing I noticed is that the class selection is currently rather poor. Coursera actually seems to be ahead of the curve in the department with over 100 courses, other companies I checked didn’t even break double digits, but it’s hard not to compare that to the thousands of courses offered by traditional universities. In addition the courses themselves are all concentrated in only a few disciplines (mostly science and engineering) and seem to be generally lower level, introductory fare.
I apologize if that sounds overly negative because it really shouldn’t. Online education of this type is still in its infancy and it’s to be expected that it currently doesn’t offer the breadth of a traditional education, not to mention that anyone taking these courses courses to qualify for a job probably won’t bemoan the lack of humanities classes. In addition the focus on lower level courses is probably a good idea since the target audience for a lot of these companies seems to be those who can’t afford or can’t get access to traditional education and thus are likely starting at the bottom.
A final note on accreditation. Currently none of these services (to my knowledge) are accredited and as such do not confer university credit. They do however offer certificates of completion which from the little I’ve read seem to be well-regarded by potential employers. It’s not quite a bachelors degree but if all you need is the equivalent of a community college certificate then it will probably be enough. Whether accreditation follows in the future remains to be seen.