I’ve recently started two courses offered by the Berklee College of Music on Coursera.org: Songwriting and Introduction to Music Production. So far, both classes are pretty interesting and well presented.
If you haven’t heard about Coursera.org, it’s a place where you can take online classes from top schools around the world for free. The classes on Coursera are MOOC‘s (Massive Open Online Courses). Some of the classes have more than 100,000 students. These classes are presented with video lectures, supplemental readings, discussion forums and wikis. Like traditional courses, there are quizzes and assignments.
A few of the people I’ve talked to have found this intriguing and usually have that look in their eye that says “what’s the catch? How can this be free?” I have some thoughts on that. First, Coursera says in their vision:
we hope to give everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few. We want to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.
For me, that is a good and noble cause. I can hear my brother-in-law in the background saying “goodwill doesn’t pay the bills!” Coursera does have some signature courses where, for a fee, students can get an official certificate from their school leading the course. They also have a careers section where students can be linked to employers (I assume for a fee to the employer). Coursera is relatively new (started in the fall of 2011) so there is a lot of data mining and learning that will be valuable to them and we can likely expect to see other ideas for monetization appearing in the future.
OK, that covers Coursera, what’s in it for the schools? Well, it seems to me that many schools know that they need to get into online training. This lets them get their feet wet without having to develop a ton of infrastructure to support their offerings. A lot of the courses I’m seeing are more introductory so there is certainly marketing value in this for them. There are openings for volunteers to translate the lectures which must have some value for the schools. And, it seems like some of the teachers have supplemental material, or are developing it, and again, there is a lot of data here that they can get to refine those offerings. I do want to point out that nothing so far has been overt selling or any implication that a student must buy extra material to succeed. So far, everything one needs is there.
I like the concept, I like the platform and I like the classes. I haven’t taken a course in a while and there’s a nice sense of accomplishment that comes with learning. I think I’ll update more on what’s happening with these classes as they progress.