More top universities to offer free online courses

February 21, 2013 by Terence Chea

More of the world's elite universities are joining the rush to offer "massive open online courses," but it's still uncertain whether so-called MOOCs will help more students earn college degrees.

Coursera and edX, two of the leading MOOC providers, on Thursday announced major expansions that will roughly double the number of universities offering free online courses through their websites.

The U.S.-based edX, which was founded in May by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said it will add six new institutions, including five outside the U.S., which will offer at least 25 additional courses.

U.S.-based Coursera said it will add 29 institutions, including 16 outside the United States. Over the next several months, the schools will offer 90 new courses, including some taught in French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese.

"Having courses taught in other languages will enable more to take our classes," said Andrew Ng, a Stanford University professor who co-founded Coursera last April.

MOOCs have attracted millions of students and captured the public imagination over the past year, allowing people from all walks of life to learn from leading scholars at elite universities—free of charge.

Coursera currently offers 220 courses from 33 institutions and has almost 2.8 million registered users who have signed up for nearly 10 million courses. Only a fraction of enrollees actually complete the courses, in part because it's easy and free to sign up.

The 29 new Coursera partners include Chinese University of Hong Kong, Technical University of Denmark, National Autonomous University of Mexico as well as the universities of Copenhagen, Geneva and Toyko.

EdX, which currently offers 25 courses from six universities and has 700,000 registered users, will add six new members: Australian National University, Delft University of Technology, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, McGill University, Rice University and the University of Toronto.

Delft University in the Netherlands will be the first edX partner to provide courses as "open content," which means that other universities are free to incorporate the materials in their offerings, said Agarwal.

"People can reuse it and remix it," Agarwal said.

But the question remains: Can these large-scale, highly automated classes help increase college completion rates or lower the cost of earning a degree?

So far, only a small number of institutions are offering degree credit for MOOCs, but that could change if more colleges determine the digital classes meet their academic standards.

Earlier this month, the American Council on Education said it will recommend credit for five Coursera courses. The association is evaluating more MOOCs for possible credit recommendations, which many schools use to decide whether to grant credit for nontraditional courses.

Critics say online-only have unacceptably high dropout rates and aren't well-suited for struggling students who need more face-to-face interaction and mentoring to succeed.

EdX's Agarwal said colleges should use MOOCs to improve, rather than replace, campus-based education by combining online lessons with classroom instruction.

San Jose State University students who recently took a "blended" version of an edX engineering class performed significantly better than students who took the classroom-based course, he added.

"I really believe the blended model is really a key approach to improving campus education," said edX President Anant Agarwal.

Explore further: College credit recommended for free online courses


Related Stories

College credit for online courses gains momentum

November 16, 2012

The American Council on Education, a nonprofit organization that represents most of the nation's college and university presidents, is preparing to weigh in on massive open online courses - MOOCs, for short - a new way of ...

Elite colleges transform online higher education

August 5, 2012

(AP) — When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offered its first free online course this spring, Ashwith Rego jumped at the chance to learn from some of the world's leading researchers — without leaving his ...

Harvard, MIT announce online learning partnership

May 2, 2012

(AP) -- Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have joined forces to offer free online courses in a project aimed at attracting millions of online learners around the world, the universities announced Wednesday.

Recommended for you

After a reset, Сuriosity is operating normally

February 23, 2019

NASA's Curiosity rover is busy making new discoveries on Mars. The rover has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014 and recently reached a clay region that may offer new clues about the ancient Martian environment's potential ...

Study: With Twitter, race of the messenger matters

February 23, 2019

When NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice, the ensuing debate took traditional and social media by storm. University of Kansas researchers have ...

Solving the jet/cocoon riddle of a gravitational wave event

February 22, 2019

An international research team including astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has combined radio telescopes from five continents to prove the existence of a narrow stream of material, ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (4) Feb 21, 2013
MOOC's so far are merely venues for instructors to tout fantabulously expensive texts/syllabi and stuff ones PC with

Well, I note your complaints and look forward to your suggestions on how to fix the problem, in your opinion. Now, me and my buddies, see these excellent universities dispensing some very important information! Tell you what. I will get with some friends, and we will see what it might take to make more universally appealing texts to go with the small number of courses that have been released to date. Maybe, a new kind of library or tutorial search engine is in order. But, the advantage of gaining access to these courses WITHOUT HAVING TO LEAVE HOME and without HAVING TO BORROW YOUR BOOKS, is especially compelling for the masses of open-minded learners around the world! The data in your books, is being surpassed/updated. You are still using a "PC" and that is being left in the dust, too! So much of the world is not even free to pursue an education or a dream!!!
3.8 / 5 (4) Feb 21, 2013
This is interesting -- it's almost as if the Universities are designing the tools that will make the universities themselves eventually obsolete. This is a huge good for the world and a noble thing for an institution to do. So many corporate entities seem to believe that furthering their own existence is the only public good they are bound to.
5 / 5 (2) Feb 21, 2013
Can't complain to free education... i wouldn't mind it costing a tiny bit if the quality is good and can study in my own time at home...the fact that its free is added bonus.
2.7 / 5 (3) Feb 22, 2013
An article about universities/education, yet with so many failed attempts at constructing a paragraph. Sorry, I just couldn't resist pointing out this irony.
1 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2013
Trying to imagine where I would be right now without the influences of several of my professors, a number of outstanding graduate assistants, and numerous study groups with fellow students over the years leaves me at a loss.

I can see the value in offering these courses, especially at the introductory level. I can also see the value of having access to distance learning at every level, something that would benefit me right now with the closest four year campus being more than an hour's commute away. And I understand the skyrocketing price per credit hour being problematic. But it is impossible to overvalue the mentoring of an experienced faculty in the context of a classroom environment. I guess you get what you pay for.

YOU need to get into one of these courses! The chat rooms and forums for these things are mega-loaded with brilliant minds/ bright perspectives. Please, try it BEFORE you dislike it. In the chats and forums I can access comments made days, weeks ago!
not rated yet Mar 02, 2013
You should have burned the philosophy textbooks.

If you can't do it, send them to me, and I will do it for you.

"I am pleased that I have saved and kept my math, physics, engineering and philosophy textbooks." - Huffman
Lilly Anne
not rated yet Mar 06, 2013
MOOC's so far are merely venues for instructors to tout fantabulously expensive texts/syllabi and stuff ones PC with prerequisite locally stored objects, cookies, DOM and PIE...
I never thought of that angle, but you have a valid point, about loading up on heaps of adware!
Most MOOC's are funded by venture capital money, and they aren't non-profit's nor charities. That would make sense, what you described, as an anticipated revenue source.
What many need to realize is that MIT and IEEE (two examples, although there are probably others) have offered wonderful online courses via podcasts and video instruction, free of charge, for years.
MOOCs will be helpful to some people, especially for those living somewhere remote, or without access to educational materials. I don't see how MOOCs will be so helpful in the more populated areas of the U.S.A though.
I hope MOOCs don't crowd out community colleges. Community colleges offer good, low-cost education in many fields of study.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2013
" I don't see how MOOCs will be so helpful in the more populated areas of the U.S.A though. I hope MOOCs don't crowd out community colleges. Community colleges offer good, low-cost education in many fields of study."

Institutions of Higher learning are broadly important. They nurture and provide the incubator effect for helping those with the resources, that is, talent, money, TRAINABILITY. They focus ones learning to a discipline to meet MANY challenges ONCE someone hands out an imperative. The Online component of education allows a powerful mind to become even more powerful/retrained and, or, advanced. While IN university, the dynamic world of REALITY- a BIllion times more robust than any University, swallows and spews new ideas faster than any school. The TOOLS are the same; math logic, etc. But the online world is more resistant to becoming archaic/obsolete. Online new data and old facts merge MUCH faster. Colleges train classes of people; Online trains the Masses as peers!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.