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July 17, 2012 1:18 PM Online Courses Still Expanding

By Danny Vinik

The New York Times is reporting today that the online education platform Coursera is partnering with 12 new schools to bring dozens of online classes to students around the globe. The brainchild of two Stanford University computer scientists, Coursera offered 43 courses from Stanford, Michigan, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania last year and registered 680,000 users. This year, it expects to offer more than a 100 courses and reach more than a million people.

The massive online open courses (MOOCs) currently offer just a “statement of accomplishment,” not course credit, for completion of a course but the University of Washington, one of the 12 new partners, will offer these online courses for credit in the fall. Other universities could follow soon.

Many people aren’t convinced that MOOCs are the future of education, as course content is only one aspect of learning and the college experience, and the completion rate for such course is often extremely low.

One of the major problems with offering online courses for credit is cheating, as there is no way for professors to monitor students while they take an online exam. However, a different online education platform, Udacity, has partnered with Pearson to offer students proctored tests for $80 at Pearson’s testing centers, which could lead the way for more schools offering these online courses for credit.

The MOOCs are currently free for students and neither the universities nor Coursera pays each other anything, though there is an agreement between the two that if a revenue source does emerge (such as charging students a small fee - maybe $99 per month), it will be divided up between them. At the moment, Coursera is funded from investors, including some of the schools with which it collaborates.

Schools partnering with Coursera incur a cost of putting the course content online as well, but it is widely assumed that online courses are cheaper to administer than classroom courses as one professor can teach thousands (even millions) of students and the entire system is digital, with no need for a classroom or classroom materials.

The list of new schools partnering with Coursera is impressive, including many of the top universities around the country and three foreign ones as well. It includes:

  • California Institute of Technology
  • Duke University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Rice University
  • University of California, San Francisco
  • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Washington
  • University of Virginia
  • University of Edinburgh (Scotland)
  • University of Toronto (Canada)
  • EPF Lausanne (Switzerland)


Many education experts expect MOOCs to become an important part of the U.S. education system, as they are cheap to administer and provide students with a straightforward way obtain information from some of the top professors in the country. Coursera’s expansion could be a major step in that direction.

Danny Vinik is an intern at the Washington Monthly.