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Education Featured Article

February 21, 2013

Coursera Steps Up Online Learning Service with 29 New Course Providers

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

When it comes to education these days, many are looking beyond the confines of the traditional brick schoolhouse and are turning to the Internet to provide a larger portion of a school day. Home schooling is gaining, private schools are stepping into the fray, and purely online learning ventures like Coursera are offering a new level of service. Coursera announced earlier today that it stepped up its own offerings by adding 29 new partners to bolster its free course lineup.

Coursera's 29 new partners are just part of a larger overall theme, with Coursera making regular expansions to its lineup and offering more value to its users on a regular basis. Better yet, half of Coursera's 29 partners are international partners, making them an even more attractive proposition both to Coursera, and by extension, its users. Some of the universities coming in with Coursera include the University of Tokyo, Sapienza Universita di Roma, and the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

Coursera has been on a significant upward spiral in terms of user numbers, landing over one million total users world-wide following just four months of launching. Coursera is on track to land a million new enrollments every month, and has thus far managed to land 2.8 million total users taking advantage of free classes with Coursera.

There are a variety of courses spotted on Coursera, with topics ranging from history to engineering to chemistry and beyond. Perhaps the biggest draw for Coursera, though, is language topics, which is what many of the newcomers will be bringing along, including courses in French, Chinese, Italian and Spanish. With over 60 different universities involved in the massive open online course (MOOC) platform, it's looking like the nature of university studies themselves may be poised for a bit of change.

It's not just online courses like Coursera, either. Several schools--even K-12 schools--are offering up at least some kind of online component with some going so far as to use online systems for alternative education facilities. Entire private school operations are opening up online, powered by a number of disparate factors like bullying in schools, perceived deficiencies with current public school operations, and factors of distance and the parents' occupations.

There has long been a certain cluster of the population that believes that public schools were designed to do a reasonably good job with large numbers of children. Almost a Bell curve distribution, public schools do well with the median population, and those not too far from the median. Slightly advanced students can be bumped up the ladder, slightly deficient students can be held back. But the extreme cases--the outliers--are a much different issue. The disruptive elements--the troubled, the at-risk, even the gifted and the talented--often get short shrift, and this is where other options come into play.

Will online learning be the future of school? Possibly; declining budgets for public schools, especially in a challenging economic environment, suggest alternatives should be considered, and public schools reduced to a few rooms for teachers, a testing center, and a couple servers may be an excellent way to get education to students without the need for massive plants and property upkeep costs. But there will likely be opposition to such an idea, vocal and strong in nature, that keeps such a move from being considered on a wide radius, at least for now.

Online education may well prove valuable in the future, once all the kinks are appropriately ironed out and the infrastructure can rise to the task.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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