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Bringing Coursera's university lectures to the developing world

Posted by Sandi Lin on July 11, 2013

Coursera announced yesterday that they've raised an additional $43M. Part of their focus going forward will be to bring Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to the developing world. Coursera currently works with 83 universities (including Stanford and Yale) to offer free video lectures to anyone with an Internet connection. However, only 7% of their courses are offered in a non-English language.

Because Coursera's content is based on university lectures, their courses generally have specific start and end dates and include homework, quizzes, and exams. For an additional fee (typically $50), some courses offer a verified certificate of completion (called Signature Track). These certificates are not transferrable for college credit yet, but it's something that Coursera is working on.

I recently heard one of the founders, Daphne Koller, speak at an education conference. She was an inspiring speaker. Some of her key insights were:

  • About 8% of registered students actually complete the course. About half who sign up never actually start, and others who do are there just to watch the lectures. Completion rates are much higher for students who turn in the first homework assignment or pay for Signature Track.
  • About 40% of students are from the developing world, where completion rates are also higher. Courses offered in French are increasing popular, largely due to interest from sub-Saharan Africa. Extending their platform to mobile devices will be important to reach students with limited broadband.
  • The average university has 5-6K courses. Coursera currently has around 400, and they hope that in 5-10 years they will have the curriculum of a medium-sized university.
  • Some of the challenges have been for professors to adapt their courses for delivery online, and to figure out how to grade assignments at a much bigger scale. Also, social learning takes place mostly outside of their platform.

I can imagine a future where university lectures are available from Coursera, and the bricks-and-mortar experience is more focused on group discussions, research, grading, and certification. Even though the MOOC format is not ideal for everyone, it's certainly a wonderful thing for learners to access free lectures from top universities around the world.

 

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