Lectures for Everyone from the World’s Top Universities?

December 18, 2013 Katharina Lochner

The Future of Learning: Offer the Best Courses for Free?

The future of learning is a topic we have come across quite a few times during this year. Some people have the vision that education could be available and affordable for anyone at any stage in life. Here is one of them: How about taking the best courses from the best instructors at the best universities for people all around the world… for free?

The starting point for computer science professor Daphne Koller from Stanford University was the fact that on the one hand going to university opens the door to a world of opportunities, while on the other hand not everyone can attend university. There are not enough spots for all people at universities and costs of higher education are unaffordable for many. She wanted to change this and started Coursera. Its goal is having the best courses from the best instructors at the best universities for people all around the world for free.

What makes the courses on Coursera different from others? They start on a given day. Students watch videos and complete homework assignments every week for a real grade with a real deadline. In the end they receive a certificate. Online learning offers a lot of opportunities such as getting away from 60 minutes lectures and breaking the content into small and coherent chunks, which allows for personalised learning. This also includes working with the material and receiving feedback.

Grades for the many students enrolled in the courses can be provided by algorithms in some cases. Where it is not possible, peer grading can be used, and research shows that peer grades are highly correlated with teacher grades. Furthermore, in this kind of format, collaboration is also possible. There are forums or physical or virtual study groups in which students can help each other. Finally, the format is also great for studying learning because every click, every action and every output by students is recorded and can be studied. Thus, Coursera seems to make it possible for everyone around the world who has a computer and internet access to enroll in courses and study at their own pace and with their own timing.

We only just completed a twelve week Coursera course and found it to be a very positive thing. There were several five to twenty minutes lectures that one needed to watch during the week and there was an assignment that one needed to complete by the end of the week. There was a mid-term and a final exam. And there were many questions and even more helpful answers in the forum. We did not try out a study group. Our résumé is: it was a great course, we learned a lot, and we will definitely do it again.

About the Author

Katharina Lochner

Dr Katharina Lochner is the former research director for the cut-e Group which was acquired by Aon in 2017. Katharina is now a researcher and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Iserlohn, Germany. In her role at cut-e, she applied the research in organizational and work psychology to real-world assessment practice. She has a strong expertise in the construction and evaluation of online psychometric tools.

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