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Coursera: Dozens of Free, Massive, and Open Online Courses

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the teaching-the-interesting-bits dept.

Education 101

Titus Andronicus writes "Professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng of Stanford University announced a major expansion in the catalog of free, massive, open online courses being offered by the company they founded, Coursera. The subject areas include computer science, mathematics, and business. The providers include Stanford, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. Even more courses are expected to be announced by competitors such as Udacity, MITx, Minerva, and Udemy — perhaps soon. Is this the future of education?"

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Maybe (4, Interesting)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#39748271)

It might not be the future of formal education; it lacks the cachet, the QA, the brand recognition.

For studying for its own sake, perhaps.

Re:Maybe (4, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 2 years ago | (#39748533)

I think you are confusing a degree with education. Education can be had for free. A degree is part of a formal program. There is intersection but the two are not mutually inclusive.

Re:Maybe (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 2 years ago | (#39748679)

Personally I've seen employers leaning away from formal educations as a way of determining a potential employees skill level. How many times have you seen someone get hired with all sorts of college education, come in and not have even the faintest hint of common sense? We've got a guy that has PhDs left and right... was even a college computer science professor in his last job. But just does stupid stuff, like write a program that sends out an email... but it never arrived. He didn't know why. I find out he was sending it with no return address, so the exchange server is rejecting it. So he "fixes it" by putting in a return email address and 2 weeks later the exchange server starts rejecting ALL email from our own mail server. He'd put in a return email address but made it "fake@fake.fake" or something and the exchange server was resolving the domain as not real. After it accumulated enough errors it decided that our own mail server was trying to attack us and black listed it. The guy shut down our email system for nearly 2hrs before we figured out what was going on.

Meanwhile we've got people with no formal education that worked their way up from the support center and they are some of the best coders we have. Yet they make half what our "professor" does. To make matters worse, he rides a recumbent bicycle to work. No lie.

Re:Maybe (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39748975)

Your one example is an IT mistake that many engineers could have possibly made. You must be working in IT. Have some more respect for the things that engineers do that are un-IT related. You may learn something new.


Re:Maybe (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39749163)

What's wrong with riding a recumbent bicycle to work? Really, the only problem I can kind of see is that he could be sweaty when he gets in. Is that the only problem? As someone who plans to start biking to work, I'd like to know.

Re:Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39755267)

Maybe he thinks riding a recumbent bicycle is stupid (and he is probably right), that doesn't mean he has a problem with someone riding a normal bicycle to work.

Re:Maybe (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about 2 years ago | (#39750411)

To make matters worse, he rides a recumbent bicycle to work. No lie.

What's wrong with that?

Re:Maybe (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | about 2 years ago | (#39750443)

To make matters worse, he rides a recumbent bicycle to work. No lie.

I see what you did there. I won't take this recumbent bike lying down!

Re:Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39751091)

he rides a recumbent bicycle to work

Does he have a neckbeard and murder people in his spare time?

Re:Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39758473)

Don't you usually whitelist your own internal servers so these kinds of things don't happen? You can blame the guy all you want, but I don't consider your setup very stable.

college is expensive (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39748283)

Free is a lot cheaper than college.

Part of It (4, Informative)

englishknnigits (1568303) | about 2 years ago | (#39748303)

I think the Khan Academy has a pretty good model. You can learn at your own pace at home and then get person to person (from teacher or fellow students) help the following day. Having the learning and exercises take place online lets teachers easily see how far each student got, how long they spent on each problem, etc. Having a really talented teacher prepare lectures online also helps alleviate the disparagement between education received by people with crappy teachers versus students who are blessed with good teachers.

Re:Part of It (0)

Pseudonym Authority (1591027) | about 2 years ago | (#39748407)

KA is a good tutor, but as it only gives a broad generalization and two or three (unitless, usually) examples, it is almost useless for deeper understanding.

Re:Part of It (2)

Loughla (2531696) | about 2 years ago | (#39749063)

I talk about Khan as if it is a tool to get your feet under you, for this reason. You can take a small bite of a large apple, to see if it's something you want to spend a metric butt-ton of money on in an IRL campus. As far as specialization using Khan (and most other on-line academies), though? Not so much.

Re:Part of It (2)

GLMDesigns (2044134) | about 2 years ago | (#39749307)

The Khan model will only improve with time. It will be better organized; logic trees will direct users on different learning paths and there will be a massive increase in example videos that will help people who are confused by particular points. This is the beginning of the end of factory-inspired, top-down bureaucratic style that has been the paradigm in the K-12 education for the last century. We will see a return of student/tutor learning, the rise of decentralized "home"/group schooling; and variant forms that we don't yet know of.

Re:Part of It (2)

fwarren (579763) | about 2 years ago | (#39752093)

Yeah, that is exactly the problem traditional educational institutions will have with it.

One thing is this stuff does not change, mathematics, chemistry, biology, book keeping, etc really has not changed. A very good book and video lecture should be as good in 20 years as it is now. If they spend time improving and adding material instead of just ditching everything and going with new material every few years like your typical college program does, they will be able to build something incredible.

It was only a community college that I attended. But it was pretty useless. There was the books, I was expected to read them. I could buy "for dummies" books that would be better to learn from. Then there was the classroom instruction, which was repeating what the book said. If you did not understand something from the book, the instructor might help. If something in the book inspired you to ask a more advanced question. Sorry, they instructor would not answer, it might confuse the slower students. It turns out the books are there for you to read, and to provide tests to prove that you read the book. The instructors are there to proctor the tests and grade the work.

Khan does not have to do much to do better than the current system at teaching students. Since he does not have to worry about real estate, sports, trustees, textbook publishers, unions and tenure he can focus on really teaching students instead of making money for everyone vested in doing things the way it has always been done.

Re:Part of It (1)

laejoh (648921) | about 2 years ago | (#39749413)

Pity their course material is in Klingon, that's the only thing holding me back.

Re:Part of It (1)

cuser14159 (1172901) | more than 2 years ago | (#39760643)

Why would the course materials be in Klingon? Perhaps a superhuman engineered version of English...

Something to listen to at work (3)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#39748309)

Work == boring.
College lectures == interesting. (Also audiobooks and infowars radio == interesting.)

Not the entire future (4, Insightful)

fiziko (97143) | about 2 years ago | (#39748319)

I've tried to learn online, and I've tried to learn in a classroom. I've also tried to teach both ways. Nothing beats a teacher who can interact with a student in person. Now, this may transform teachers into the people who answer questions students have after watching the videos, and it can certainly expand the reach of quality courses to low income and low population areas, which is a good thing (because reaching more students is always a good thing) but some elements of our education system survive because they work.

Now, in the long term, coupling this with live teachers and individualized, adaptive education content can really change the world...

Re:Not the entire future (1)

hamalnamal (2499998) | about 2 years ago | (#39748435)

Exactly, the current lecture based model is so antiquated it hurts. We have all this technology that can be used to make learning more available and easier, but unfortunately It'll probably take at least until the current generation of undergrads are the old crotchety professors before we see any real progress. "Back in my day we used to use the internet to learn things, you should WORK for your knowledge, not just get it for free though a mind meld!"

Re:Not the entire future (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 2 years ago | (#39748955)

Exactly, the current lecture based model is so antiquated it hurts.

And yet, some people learn better that way. You can ask a question as soon as it occurs to you and get an immediate answer instead of having to email something off and wait for a reply or post something in an online chat and hope there is someone there with an answer. Asking that question in a lecture can actually improve the lecture for other people, because if YOU have a question someone else probably has the same one, and the lecturer can actually deal with everyone at the same time. And he can expand or modify the course of the lecture to cover the material you've let him know is confusing, right there and then. Immediate feedback to the lecturer that he can use for the next time he gives it.

A video "lecture" offers none of that. The video is the video. If the video doesn't explain it the way you need it explained, too bad. The cost of making the video will limit the options for changing the video to cover the material more clearly or in a different way. Just hope that your email or chat request gets you the answer you need.

Yes, for some people, watching a video or online course is great. I am particularly fond of the online material from FEMA that covers the Incident Command System (ICS) and National Incident Management System (NIMS). These are courses that are being mandated for emergency service personnel (including volunteers) before you can get much of anything in the way of other qualifications. ICS100, 200, 700 are a standard set of courses, all online. It's easy to step through all the boring crap and go almost directly to the test at the end. You don't learn much, but you have the ticket punched.

Just for fun, and to gather ticket punches, every so often I'll go to the online course site and take something. It makes me look smart and well qualified, on paper. On paper is what FEMA wants, so they get it.

Re:Not the entire future (1)

iamwahoo2 (594922) | about 2 years ago | (#39751101)

Having gone through hundreds of pointless online corporate classes in my life, I thought like you, but I have tried one of these courses recently (Machine Learning, Standford) and I have to say that it is an incredible difference to what I have been exposed to in the past. Corporate online classes ire generally put together under some contract with minimal effort and thought put into how people actually learn material. Which is just as well, because most of the material is usually not worth learning.
In contrast these academic online courses are extremely well put together. The material is presented pretty much just like a class room, with the intent of delivering meaningful knowledge in a concise and understandable forms. While I recognize that class room learning has some advantages, this training is very close, and I noticed several advantages. First, video production allows for multiple takes, so their is not time wasted in delivering content in an inefficient manner (just do a new take and edit). Secondly, When you get behind in writing down material as you would in a classroom, you do not get caught up in falling behind in the learning because you are spending all of your time copying down equations and scrambling just to keep up. This allows you to pause and if necessary, rewind, to ensure that you are comprehending and learning the content from the very first time that you start on the lectures.

Re:Not the entire future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39753309)

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the differences between in-class and online course delivery. I am taking a course through Udacity because I want to learn Python. I have experience in a wide range of programming languages many of which I learned on my own. I was intrigued by the opportunity to learn Python in this manner. Thus far the course material has been very well-presented and the lectures interspersed with interactive quizzes and weekly or end-of-unit homework problem sets make it easy to validate my understanding of the concepts covered in each unit and cumulatively throughout the course.

It's not CS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39754813)

Udacity (the audacity!)

I walked through their initial cs101 offering. I'm a CS lecturer at one of the ivory tower UK universities, and I was curious to see their introduction to Computer Science. It's not Computer Science, or even computer science. It's more like an after school programming club - and that seems fitting because their forum is full of children. It's good that kids can pick up a bit of programming knowledge - and so I applaud them for that - but I weep at them passing this off as being CS.

Re:Not the entire future (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about 2 years ago | (#39751397)

And yet, some people learn better that way.

And some teachers teach better that way too. A good lecturer tailors his lecture to his audience. If she explains something and its apparent the class doesn't understand, she can try a different way of explaining. Or a student can ask a poignant question to clarify something. With a video, the lecture is set and if you don't understand something, you can watch the video as many times as you want but it will never be explained in a different way. With a video, the lecturer is talking to a camera, not a human being, and has no way to gauge if what he's saying makes any sense. Sure he might be able to modify the video for the next course iteration, but you don't get the same realtime feedback.

Re:Not the entire future (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39774075)

It seems likely that the video is useful as an adjunct to lecture at least. Prepping with video would allow a lighter lecture schedule where the lecturer can focus on the most difficult material and answering questions.

Re:Not the entire future (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39748507)

It's not just the videos though that make this work. The discussion forums and other resources that surround the course offer additional help, opinions, and other resources. That's what really makes the courses useful and interesting.

I took the Stanford AI course in the fall and the discussion groups were informal, scattered but pretty strong. This winter I took the Stanford D&A of Algorithms I course, and the forums were right there with the course material which was really helpful. If I've got questions, there are more advanced students around to answer them; or if I want test data for a program, someone will post it. And the forums are monitored so that if a thousand voices suddenly cry out "hey, I don't understand" an explanation or clarification will show up.

Re:Not the entire future (1)

nschubach (922175) | about 2 years ago | (#39748561)

The hardest hurdle I have in self learning is paying attention to the subject. If I'm in a classroom environment you have my undivided attention, but I've found that out of that environment it's way too easy to get distracted. It's nice to have a video that you can pause and come back to in these cases but you have to dedicate yourself to coming back to the video. That can be complicated by video services that don't allow picking up where you left off easily without having to scrub through the videos. My downfall to learning is that I tend to compartmentalize my life (When at work, I'm in work mode... at home, I don't think about work... same applies to schooling) but I'm slowly breaking that down because some things are just too interesting. For instance, I am already "accomplished" at work with development and I don't really need classes, but for some reason I found the Stanford courses interesting and I've been watching them all. (I'm just going to say: Mehran Sahami is a great lecturer.)

Re:Not the entire future (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | about 2 years ago | (#39749153)

Is there good broadcast software that can handle this?

Like, a teacher at the top of the screen and all of the other "students" below... and the teacher can zoom in on any student and share a whiteboard to help him with a problem.

Re:Not the entire future (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39751031)

There's InkSurvey from the Colorado School of Mines, but it is meant for more walking students through problems step-by-step in a classroom setting to get immediate feedback, with the expectation that students will have their own tablet computers.

Re:Not the entire future (1)

SoothingMist (1517119) | about 2 years ago | (#39749433)

Fiziko's experience is similar to my own. My opinion is that, yes, education models must change but trying to do away with live in-person teachers is a mistake. I also think that a formal lecture can help lay the foundation in a course upon which students can build.

Re:Not the entire future (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39750005)

The profs that are teaching the same subject to in person are worse than the guys in coursera videos. Sure, if I were at Stanford, I'd prefer them live - but a top professor online is better than a mediocre professor in any way.

Incidentally, you may guess what I think of future job posibilities and general usefulness to society for average people - globalization means that if your profession is "scalable" then either you are one of top 10 or top 100 of your narrow field, or you are nothing.

Re:Not the entire future (2)

fiziko (97143) | about 2 years ago | (#39750129)

The profs that are teaching the same subject to in person are worse than the guys in coursera videos. Sure, if I were at Stanford, I'd prefer them live - but a top professor online is better than a mediocre professor in any way.

This is also true. However, I can imagine a working model in the future that actually allows for the larger class sizes the taxpayers seem to want to pay for, while mitigating the instructional quality problem by having the region or country's best teachers providing video lectures and then the best of the local teachers supplementing the questions, preferably with a different outlook. The obvious risk is that the local teachers will grow less experienced over the generations, and the interaction between teacher and student will suffer.

Sweet, Comp Sci courses (4, Interesting)

hamalnamal (2499998) | about 2 years ago | (#39748327)

As I am about 50% self taught, very often I will want to learn about say "Probabilistic Graphical Models" but don't really feel like digging through all of the material out there to learn the basics before I can even think about understanding what articles and documents even say. This is one of the first free online courses sites I've seen that goes past "Hurr, Hurr, Learn what a variable is".

Re:Sweet, Comp Sci courses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39748549)

"Hurr, Hurr, Learn what a variable is".

Well... it depends.

New York Times article link + 1st paragraph (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39748385)

Paywalled, but here is the first part of the article. If the URL works for you, great, if not, try searching Google News for a long phrase from this paragraph and hope the click-through works.
--cut here-- []

Online Education Venture Lures Cash Infusion and Deals With 5 Top Universities
Published: April 18, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO - An interactive online learning system created by two Stanford computer scientists plans to announce Wednesday that it has secured $16 million in venture capital and partnerships with five major universities.

--cut here--

Re:New York Times article link + 1st paragraph (5, Insightful)

SlashGordon (1127617) | about 2 years ago | (#39749061)

What have we come to when the educational courses are free and the NY Times article telling you about them is behind a paywall?

Re:New York Times article link + 1st paragraph (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | about 2 years ago | (#39750483)

Even better, a few days ago I got an overlay ad when I clicked a Google News link to NYT, which told me that this was the first of my ten free articles for the month. Yeah, like I'm going to start paying them for what Reuters and AP (ad nauseum) put out for "free" (to me).

Re:New York Times article link + 1st paragraph (2)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | more than 2 years ago | (#39753157)

What have we come to when the educational courses are free and the NY Times article telling you about them is behind a paywall?

Most employers will care a lot of if you have a nice piece of paper that has "Stanford" and "Bachelor of Science" on it. They won't yet care as much if you took some random free online course. But, of course, to get the Stanford piece of paper, you need to shell out 6 figures.

The "paywall" is in education too.

its a massive opportunity (3, Insightful)

babai101 (1964448) | about 2 years ago | (#39748427)

Peter norvig is teaching us how to design computer programs in the udacity's CS212 course. Its really amazing to watch his simple and elegant codes and if we can take up his coding habits then that will really propel our programming skills. This kind of opportunity is really massive for me considering I'm studying at a university that is not even up to standards in my own country. Never even dreamt of being taught by a genious like peter.

Took Ng's Machine Learning class last year (4, Insightful)

gazuga (128955) | about 2 years ago | (#39748429)

And I can honestly say it was great. I learned a lot, and it was structured in such a way that I learned much more quickly than had I just gone out and purchased a book and tried to learn it on my own. The homework assignments were great too - more real-world than theoretical. Thinking back to college, I wish my classes then were more like the ML class. Perhaps it was because I was taking it merely for personal enrichment and wasn't at all stressed about homework, exams, grades, etc. but the class was very enjoyable. All of that, and it was free.

Obviously I can't speak for these new class offerings with Coursera, but what have you got to lose? If nothing else, it's a great way to expand your horizons.

Re:Took Ng's Machine Learning class last year (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39750671)

I took this class, too. I've taken others from Coursera and Udacity. Dr. Ng's class was the only one worth taking. Why? Because it was the only one set up with concern that students were online and could not ask live questions or get live answer from an authoritative source. Dr. Ng anticipated a novice's questions, made sure to emphasize what was important, gave insights beyond the equations, let you slide if you didn't understand equations but did understand concepts, and arranged for homework that confirmed and extended what you knew.

Other classes seem to be an online version of the class you can take in person. There is less attention to detail in the presentations. Key concepts are glossed over. Context is lost. Homework assignments pick up where lectures leaves off, prerequisites are not clearly enumerated well enough in advance or covered at the start.

Also, I seem to hear far too often during lecture how "awesome" I am for having gotten so far, and how surprised the instructor seems to be that I'm still around to receive this encouragement. Instead of being a confidence builder, it always comes off as a lack of confidence on the part of the instructor.

Re:Took Ng's Machine Learning class last year (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39752109)


I took the M.L. and A.I. classes in 2011, and the SaaS course this year through Coursera. I didn't find the 'attempts' at encouragement as condescending: it's hard to convey how genuine a compliment is in a video that's meant to be seen by thousands of people, so I just chalked up the cheeze to the wide audience. They were all excellent courses, but the Machine Learning course by Andrew Ng (and staff! Great work) was the shining example.

An important aspect of the Machine Learning course was the emphasis on education for education's sake. Concretely, the course allowed one to work at the problems until you got them right, there were only penalties for submissions past the deadline (assignments and quizzes). This gave me great incentive to bash my head against the material until I got that perfect score, and really hone in on the areas I was struggling with: enabling me to recognize, even now, which parts I didn't/don't quite understand.

The only issue with this was that students weren't really able to share their solutions openly for review, since others might still be working on them: but that could be mitigated by providing a forum area for students who have completed an assignment.

The SaaS class tried a variation on this, where only one attempt was allowed on the quizzes (three quizzes in total, more like exams: but were the same format as the M.L.-section review quizzes), but the explanations afterwards were extremely lacking, and so I was often left knowing only that I was wrong rather than why. The A.I. course did the traditional single submission for both homework and exams, but provided ample explanation.

The assignments were spectacularly detailed in the M.L. course, whereas the A.I. course suffered from constant ambiguity, and the SaaS course simply didn't live up to the level of detail in the assignments (but that may have been due to a difference in material under study).

The M.L. class seemed like it was trying to establish a platform that emphasized learning the material, whereas the A.I. and SaaS classes seemed like they were trying to figure out how to digitize degree programs.

Impressive as the M.L. course was, though, I would be remiss not to mention MITx. I signed up for the 6.0002x offering, but had to drop it the first day it was online: not, however, before going through the first section that introduced the student with the platform. Wow. Very impressive. I was pissed that I didn't have time to take the course after seeing their framework, and will absolutely be signing up for its next offering.

Re:Took Ng's Machine Learning class last year (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39752213)

I should have mentioned that the SaaS class did a very smart thing by distributing the assignment environment in the form of a virtual machine, which made perfect sense given the technologies being taught.

Re:Took Ng's Machine Learning class last year (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39755763)

I've been doing the 6.002x course, it is the most well thought out online course of the ones I have tried, it is a lot more in depth than the ML course and consequently more time consuming, They provided an online virtual circuit board, for the lab tests and for you to experiment with and made their textbook freely available through their site (although only in an online form, but without DRM so easy to work around that if you wish). I also found the Model Thinking to be decent and also interesting, not very in depth but the concepts were well explained and has been easy to follow so far

Quality issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39759537)

I am seeing the exact same problem you are; it is the difference between Coursera and Udacity.

So I am doing the Udacity courses (very simple but so straight forward for learning) and just auditing the videos of the Coursera courses -- a few I just plain dropped because of the poor quality of the videos and/or the instructor starts talking about something else (probably present in the classroom but not displayed on the screen... very disorienting when that happens).

Still waiting .... (2)

LMacG (118321) | about 2 years ago | (#39748447)

I signed up for "Human-Computer Interaction" on 29 December. It's been indefinitely on hold since 6 March.

Can't say I'm terribly impressed with what they've done so far

Re:Still waiting .... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39750287)

Same thing on the "Computer Security" course. And coursera doesn't answer email, twitter, facebook.
I know it's free, but I don't know if I start another course or wait the Computer Security one, because of the lack of information.

Anyone with extra info?

Re:Still waiting .... (2)

atisss (1661313) | more than 2 years ago | (#39752451)

Cryptography is in progress, new videos, homeworks, I can't complain

Re:Still waiting .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39755773)

It is probably among the courses starting next week, if you go to the course I expect it'll say if it is due to start next week. But why the anxiety about signing up to other courses in the meantime, they are free, you can always drop them if one you are more interested in starts.

Wow! (3, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 2 years ago | (#39748457)

I am so lucky to be living in this era. I have so much access to information and knowledge, more than the richest person of a century ago could even imagine. I did the Stanford AI thing, and despite not having time to really devote to it (I was pursuing a Master's at the time), it was a good experience. Now that I am through with the Master's I intend to sample from the buffet.

We live in a wonderful era, tens of thousands of years of civilization and I think we are less than a century away from becoming a Type I civilization...

Re:Wow! (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | about 2 years ago | (#39750935)

Thanks for the memories, and new info! I knew about the Kardashev scale [] (but re-read it for a refresher), and following a link in that, I read up on star lifting. [] Neat!

Re:Wow! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39753949)

How I wish I could agree with you. But, with the major US ISP's trying to turn the internet into either a phone network or cable TV (and hence placing all information behind different paywalls), I just have the pessimistic attitude that the powers that be will squelch this progress we've had in the last 20 years, and keep us from progressing much past where we're at now - in fact, I suspect a reversal will follow in the not so distant future.

Greek Academia (1)

Shamanin (561998) | about 2 years ago | (#39748469)

Every time we loosen up the dynamic interaction that happens between pupil / teacher or apprentice / master we loss the very thing that keeps us creative and innovative. It isn't just a one-way transaction people, it is what keeps us all learning. I believe the printing press lessened the quality of knowledge transfer, so I see this as again another form of dilution.

Re:Greek Academia (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 2 years ago | (#39748509)

Then don't use it.

Seriously, though, we'd all do better if we had a master in a field personally teach us. But guess what? That means only the uber-rich will have access. Today, a poor person in India has a shot at getting a decent education and using it to make a living. In your world only the top 1% would have access to higher learning. Sure it isn't the same as a personal relationship with a master, but it is much better than no access.

So you can go back to your Greek world where only free property owning males were educated, but I sure as hell don't.

Re:Greek Academia (1)

Shamanin (561998) | about 2 years ago | (#39748631)

I believe you misunderstood my words (as most do in the absence of a true dialogue). I have attended both a university course in Machine Learning and taken Andrew Ng course. The online one was a great refresher but didn't dive as deep as the former. Great for an overview, but it won't make you a Computer Scientist or Quant. Unfortunately it makes some people feel like they are, only to be brutally disappointed when trying to communicate with "peers".

Anyhow, I am not condoning social class, gender, or race discrimination. Quite the opposite, I believe it is the lack of public funding that dilutes our educational system. I, for one, donate my time as a mentor both at work and at school. Apprenticeship does still happen, for free! At work, in our communities, and (hopefully) at our schools.

Re:Greek Academia (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 2 years ago | (#39748695)

Apologies for misconstruing what you said. I am very excited by these advances in education and see it as one of the pillars that a true world civilization will be built on. This is something I couldn't even have imagined 20 years ago and am flabbergasted by the progress I have seen in my lifetime...

Re:Greek Academia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39756109)

I don't see why the interaction has to be between pupil/teacher to spur creativity and innovation. It can help sometimes, but surely an intelligent student discussing a subject with a peer (I mean someone equally intelligent in this case, not just doing the same course).

It really depends on how these resources are used, if the student has these resources to learn the basics and also has a tutorial to discuss things in depth, it can be an improvement, since it will enable the tutor to help more people rather that waste time covering the basics over and over again, and the student may also benefit by having something explained by a top teacher rather than an average one.

I wonder at how you can claim the printing press lessened the quality of knowledge transfer. Unless you were alive 600 years ago I don't see how you could know this. Now, have you ever played chinese whispers? [] If you had, I don't see how you can claim word of mouth as a primary means of knowledge transmission is better than having things written down. While a two-way discussion will often yield better communication than one-way. What the printing press and these online courses do is enable much wider distribution of knowledge, raising the average level of education.

While I understand your point, at least I think I do, you didn't put it across well. And that you didn't (or were unable to) put you point across well in a written form may be related to you preferring more interactive forms of teaching.

Re:Greek Academia (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about 2 years ago | (#39750451)

Evidently, everyone was so much more knowledgeable before the printing press was invented.

I love this trend. (4, Insightful)

sixtyeight (844265) | about 2 years ago | (#39748511)

I love this trend. Free online courses make perfect sense with the internet's information distribution model, and if the coursework can be properly accredited there's no reason to have to pay absurd sums to proprietary universities. Plenty of people have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get an education that was supposed to ensure they'd have a well-paying job, never mind that they'd had to mortgage the rest of their working lives to pay off the student loans. Now, they find they can't get work anyway.

In addition to online courses, I think gameification would be such a great match with online learning. There are plenty of unemployed game designers and teachers; there's no reason they shouldn't pair up. Learning shouldn't be a chore; if we stop accepting the low standard that it's acceptable for it to be, we'll have a society where learning happens painlessly.

There's also no reason online learning games couldn't lead directly to great jobs or cash incentives. Remember Rock Band and Guitar Hero? I kept waiting for a version that would gradually teach you to play an actual guitar. Pitch sensors would pick up the notes, and as your skill increased your online ranking would as well. The highest-ranking players could get a recording contract.

It's not like the world is suffering a shortage of guitar players, but it's good proof-of-concept. There has to be a way to implement the various sciences and technologies into games; I spent hours playing CellCraft [] without realizing I was picking up basic cellular biology.

Re:I love this trend. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39749217)

Rock Band 3 and Rocksmith both allow you to use a "real" guitar

Re:I love this trend. (1)

sixtyeight (844265) | about 2 years ago | (#39749321)

Right. On. Thank you for the info!

Here's to the day when instead of mandatory school hours, we stay at home and play things like Gene Splicer Hero.

Re:I love this trend. (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 2 years ago | (#39749587)

Remember Rock Band and Guitar Hero? I kept waiting for a version that would gradually teach you to play an actual guitar.

Your wait is over []

Rough on the Adult (4, Informative)

hagrin (896731) | about 2 years ago | (#39748537)

I'm a 33 year old homeowner with a full-time job and a LLC to do small consulting projects under. I have a fiance, a husky/samoyed/malamute mix and about a half acre of property to maintain now that it's spring time here in New York. I also have two small entrepreneurial ideas I am trying to subcontract out to some friends as a side project. I'm really well scheduled with my time and I decided to try and do 2 courses at once - Algo I and Cryptography.

I made it two weeks.

A problem set, a homework and at least 4.5 hours worth of video without even looking at the suggested texts that were outlined in the first set of videos - and that was one course (Algos). With 1 week deadlines, there is a serious time crunch that doesn't allow for much in the way of "unexpected happenstance" like when I needed to do some electrical rewiring in my kitchen or assemble 3 pieces of outdoor furniture. I fully admit that I bit off more than I could chew signing up for two courses. I also fully admit that I probably need to sacrifice something on my list above in order to free up more time, but I'm not sure I can bury the fiance in the backyard legally. However, I fully understand now why people say it's _really_ (read - not impossible) difficult to continue schooling once "real life starts".

I wish the deadline schedule was a little more lenient although I do understand its purpose and I realize my outside commitments account for a large chunk of my problems. A little more leniency in the schedule would have really helped me "find the time".

Re:Rough on the Adult (5, Funny)

virgnarus (1949790) | about 2 years ago | (#39748625)

I would not have felt compassion for your situation had you not of clearly defined the exact breed of canine you own. My condolences, and I wish the best for you.

Re:Rough on the Adult (1)

laejoh (648921) | about 2 years ago | (#39749609)

Never even mind the slightly hidden reference to a certain general-purpose journaled file system!

Re:Rough on the Adult (2)

citizenr (871508) | about 2 years ago | (#39748713)

Algo I and Cryptography.
  I made it two weeks.

A problem set, a homework and at least 4.5 hours worth of video without even looking at the suggested texts that were outlined in the first set of videos - and that was one course (Algos).

Protip: You dont need to sit through the lectures like your in the class. Upload them to your phone/ipod/ipad/laptop and watch when you are doing something or even listen to them in the car.
Personally I watch them on one monitor _while playing World of Tanks_ on the other :o. 5 courses in parallel so far, passing all problem sets at >80% points.

Re:Rough on the Adult (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39748919)

I'm not sure I can bury the fiance in the backyard legally

It's customary to wait until after the wedding to start hatching these kinds of schemes.

Re:Rough on the Adult (5, Funny)

charlieo88 (658362) | about 2 years ago | (#39749279)

I'm a 33 year old homeowner with a full-time job and a LLC to do small consulting projects under. I have a fiance, a husky/samoyed/malamute mix...

Mixed marriage, is it?

Re:Rough on the Adult (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39749491)

I am taking the Crypto course myself right now... This is hard stuff...

The Good:
I am learning a lot of good stuff in this course, and already am able to apply the knowledge to my work life... The videos can be downloaded and played back offline. (Great if you ride the underground like I do each day.) In addition PDF and PPT versions of the lectures available in addtion to transscripts. The online forums are quite active. Lot's of 3rd party help available via Wikipedia and Google...

The Bad:
The Google+ groups and local study groups don't seem to be panning out too well.. It would not surprise me if the registered students are in the tens of thousands, but there are probably less than 50 active folks in the forums. (There are enough people to keep things moving, but one would expect more.) There just aren't enough examples given, and the papers refered too are often to technical to understand initially. (Needs a good open source textbook with lots of proofs, examples, and additional problems/answers.) The Math and Programing requirements were understated... (Programming became optional after class started tho...)

The Ugly:
The Notations in questions and expected formatting of answers during tests can be quite unknown until the first few folks try and report back what works and doesn't... You WILL spend at least 10 hours a week on this class, and quite possibly much more...

The main thing to remember is you DON'T have to pass to learn something, and it is likely you can take the class again if you really want too... I like it, and it is free, but it is like taking a night class, without the benefits of being accredited...

Re:Rough on the Adult (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39756237)

The maths for the crypto isn't hard or particularly advanced (you can find online tools to xor or convert to/from ascii anything you might need for the questions), the programming, I looked at the first assignment and after a while decided I need more knowledge than I have and with the other courses I'm taking I didn't have time to start learning that as well, so I skipped those. With just the lectures and quiz I'm spending more like 4-5 hours a week on it (I watch the lectures at 1.5 speed normally, but might go back to them if I'm stuck on a quiz question.

Re:Rough on the Adult (1)

scubamage (727538) | about 2 years ago | (#39749577)

I honestly tried the algorithms class and didn't get past the first video. I'm not a computer scientist. After the initial example problem where the professor was trying (poorly) to explain how you can break down multiplication and not immediately understanding his new algorithm, I stopped watching and went back to working on studying IMS deployment because its more directly related to my work (I'm a telecom network engineer by trade). I should probably have given it more of a chance, but if I'm drifting off 10 minutes into the introduction, that doesn't bode well, especially when I have other more pressing things to learn about.

Re:Rough on the Adult (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39750847)

you shoulda stuck around for graph search and data structures.
he introduced his class sort of from the CS side of things so it did alienate some people.

Re:Rough on the Adult (1)

scubamage (727538) | more than 2 years ago | (#39768799)

I may snag the other videos before the class completely closes up just to work on on my own time, but I couldn't deal with it during the time constraint. While I've gotten better at juggling self study with work and life, I've apparently lost some of my college skill in balancing formal classes with work/life :)

Super Mario vs virtual realism (1)

Chemtox (1841312) | more than 2 years ago | (#39754747)

Just like it took Super Mario a good while to be able to fly (being able to fall without hurting yourself, that was just lazy coding mind you), online education will need some time before they realize there need not be the same constrains on a virtual classroom than on a real one. Good news is, over at Udacity they have got two feathers deadline free [] . I'd expect more to follow, there and at Coursera.

In the mean time, I'll make do with mushrooms and flowers.

Re:Super Mario vs virtual realism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39756301)

Having deadlines allows a "don't talk about homework problems" time and an "its okay to talk about homework problems" time, which may encourage the more lazy students to have a good try at solving the problems on their own, as when you are stuck if someone has posted a solution in the forums it is often hard to resist looking at it. They also give a hard target time to get things done by which helps people like me who aren't great at self-motivation.

Re:Rough on the Adult (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39755093)

Ditch both bitches. You'll be fine.

Better link: (2)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 2 years ago | (#39748645)

same article without a paywall: post-gazette site []

dont forget Australian OpenLearning (2)

citizenr (871508) | about 2 years ago | (#39748739) []

Online courses, substituting grades with gamification. []

Re:dont forget Australian OpenLearning (1)

gaiageek (1070870) | about 2 years ago | (#39750089)

Thanks for posting that video. That guy is clearly someone who is aware of how technology, the internet and approaching education socially can improve education, and is actually making it happen. For those that don't have time to watch the entire video (it's 53 minutes) the Puzzle Quest bit is in the last ten minutes, but I do think you need to watch the whole thing for the background, especially for the karma points aspect.

That's a business? Really? (2)

Alex Belits (437) | about 2 years ago | (#39748745)

Coursera (pronounced COR-sayr-uh), based in Mountain View, Calif., intends to announce that it has received financial backing from two of Silicon Valley’s premier venture capital firms, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and New Enterprise Associates.

The founders said they were not ready to announce a strategy for profitability, but noted that the investment gave them time to develop new ways to generate revenue.

In other words, THERE ARE NO PLANS TO GET ANY KIND OF REVENUE. "Investments" is the only money they are getting.
It would be great as schools' internal project, or government-sponsored educational initiative. It may even work as a nonprofit charity until donors will start stuffing their own "courses" in it. But one thing that it is not, is a business.

Re:That's a business? Really? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#39750433)

It would be great as schools' internal project

Which likely means it would also work well as an outsourced operation serving the various schools whose courses are provided. Which may be the eventual revenue model, especially if one views free courses as a form of marketing for the schools.

Re:That's a business? Really? (2)

Alex Belits (437) | about 2 years ago | (#39750981)

Which may be the eventual revenue model, especially if one views free courses as a form of marketing for the schools.

That's a job for a few faculty members or consultants maintaining school's own site with those courses, not a business.

Re:That's a business? Really? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39754261)

That's a job for a few faculty members or consultants maintaining school's own site with those courses, not a business.

For one school. Of course, each school has a few courses, making the offerings fairly limited. Coursera can provide a more attractive destination for students with a wider variety of courses from different schools, which in turn draws more eyes to each school's courses. And, it lets the faculty members focus on the teaching part, and the business specialized in the delivery end (which can do the delivery more efficiently) do the delivery. (They can effectively be the consultants you describe, but instead of doing separate sites for each school, they are realizing efficiencies and reaching a broader audience with a consolidated site.)

Re:That's a business? Really? (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#39754351)

So the "business" is going to charge schools for KEEPING CONTENT FROM MULTIPLE SCHOOLS ON ONE WEB PAGE? I think, the same model was known as "portal site", and if it ever worked, it was obsoleted by search engines.

I can see space for an open source product (so schools can use and develop it) and maybe a group of people acting as consultants (but I wouldn't recommend them to quit their day jobs for that). But a full-blown 1999-style dotcom? Seriously?

Re:That's a business? Really? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39756631)

So the "business" is going to charge schools for KEEPING CONTENT FROM MULTIPLE SCHOOLS ON ONE WEB PAGE?


Facilitating online course delivery is not just hosting content on a web page.

I can see space for an open source product (so schools can use and develop it)

Software isn't the only component here

Re:That's a business? Really? (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#39761315)

"Facilitating online course delivery" is what one person working for a university can do in 5% of his time. Will this business run on $3000/y per school?

Re:That's a business? Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39753539)

The plan is clearly to build up the clientele, get good buzz and then sell the "business" to Google, Facebook, Amazon, or Microsoft.

Of course, literally hundreds of other startups have the exact same exit strategy.

Re:That's a business? Really? (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#39754359)

And how many of them managed to do that before the dotcom crash? How many, apart from Youtube, ended up in any way valuable for those companies?
Do we really have to live through another wave of this?

Many courses in a degree program now obsolete (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39748961)

I'm about to graduate, finally, with a Master's in Computer Science. With that experience behind me, and the rising availability of these courses, I find it difficult to justify much of the bullshit I had to deal with over the past five years (worked full time, took classes part time, most of them lectures with homework). Many of my classes were taught by instructors who were more interested in research and getting grants than actually teaching to a student audience. Tuition went up every single year.

I did get to work on some interesting self-directed projects so perhaps that's where the value in getting an official degree lies. Maybe it's time to rethink the structure of these higher-ed programs. Perhaps a basket of free courses could constitute a prerequisite for an institutional program that's focused more on research and lab work? I don't think it makes sense for students to spend their degree time mostly on attending lectures that teachers aren't interested in teaching anyways.

Re:Many courses in a degree program now obsolete (1)

Alex Belits (437) | about 2 years ago | (#39748995)

Which particular courses that you took, you think are "obsolete"?

Re:Many courses in a degree program now obsolete (1)

_8553454222834292266 (2576047) | about 2 years ago | (#39750031)

I assume he's talking about the ones that have online equivalents for free.

Different approaches (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39749059)

It's interesting to see the different approaches these new companies are taking. Coursera current goal seems to have assembled a lot of content in a short amount of time. The content is quite varied, but so is the quality of the content, and not all of the instructors have thought about how to take advantage of the new medium. Udacity, on the other hand, seems to be more focused on tailoring their content towards online learning, but their current selection is much more limited. In any case, competition is good, and it'll be interesting to see how these evolve.

The Crypto course with Prof Boneh (3, Interesting)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 2 years ago | (#39749379)

I've been doing the crypto course with professor Boneh at Stanford.

1) It's not easy. If you aren't up on number theory and discrete probability, you'll be learning it.
2) It's not 'Khan Academy'. This is college level stuff.
3) It's free.
4) It's quite a bit of work to keep up on the homework and grok all the lectures.
5) It's good. I've been doing crypto for a long time. I'm learning new things that are useful to my job.

Re:The Crypto course with Prof Boneh (2)

sgauss (639539) | about 2 years ago | (#39749581)

I'm taking the same course. I'm probably spending 10-15 hours a week, and that's a challenge as like many I have a full time job, family, house and other responsibilities. The material is challenging and the class moves at a quick pace. Boneh is an excellent teacher which really does make a difference.

Link for the Minerva website (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39750309)

Anyone knows?

No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39751491)

Self-study will always be superior because you are not locked into the misconceptions and forced "realities" being taught by the mainstream that wants to push its own ideas. Tried some stupid online programming course recently just to see how it was structured and what it taught, and immediately was disgusted by its use of Python -- a terrible language that is trying to be a replacement for BASIC as a language with horrible ideas, terrible structure, and no use for learning real, core languages such as C/C++ because the structure is completely different. Plus, the whole emphasis on the major clusterfuck that is regexp for string parsing just disgusts me -- it creates unreadable code and basically becomes a double-parsed string (parse the regexp then use what the regexp is to actually parse the string you're looking for), decreasing performance and elegance in your code.

Any type of "education" has similar issues. It's all about teaching what they want to teach, how they want to teach it, furthering any agenda or bias they have, and (especially for actual classes) emphasizing sheer memorization over learning, which creates people that are better at spouting "facts" than actual knowledge, since we can always look up and reference specific facts. Can't do that with actual applied knowledge if you are a fact-spouter.

Education in our society is really laughable these days, and we're creating a culture of self-obsessed, trivia-spouting pseudo-experts that have no real knowledge.

sustaining (1)

neonsignal (890658) | more than 2 years ago | (#39753299)

Great set of quality subjects on offer, but I'm wondering how they intend to sustain it in the long term; I'm guessing the current funders see it as a public-good project. It's a lot cheaper than offering class-room time, but there is still the hosting costs, the staff costs, and the time that the lecturers and grad students are putting into content and forum feedback. I hope they have a sustainable model, because it looks good so far.

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