The technical sciences are undergoing a revolution — that much is clear. Platforms like Treehouse and Codeacademy have seen to it that the way we learn, teach, and find jobs in Web and mobile development and design will change and is changing.
The liberal arts have a longer way to go, but Coursera is fighting to the fight to bring them into the digital age. The startup’s focus is to bring Ivy League-level education to the Internet, and has already gotten the likes of Princeton and Stanford on board with its mission. Today, Coursera is announcing its signed another 17 university partners, including Brown, Vanderbilt, the Mount Sinai Medical School, Columbia University, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, giving it more than 30 university partnerships and 200+ courses offered — and co-founder Daphne Koller says that enrollment has reached 1.35 million. Not bad for a platform that launched less than a year ago.
At the moment, the way that much of Coursera works is more as a supplement to a traditional college education than a replacement, although the University of Washington is providing a for-credit version of one of Coursera’s online courses. “The universities design and produce the content, and own all IP on that,” Koller says. “We develop the platform and disseminate the courses to students via the platform… many of our partner universities are using these courses as part of the instruction for their own on-campus students, as part of a flipped classroom or blended learning instruction.”
Thanks to a generous series A fundraising round, Coursera is still entirely free, although monetization plans remain on the roadmap. Koller says there a possibility of charging a “modest amount” for certification, or for “facilitating introductions between employers and students in our courses — with student opt-in only.”
There’s more than enough debate surrounding how effective these alternative education platforms are, but Coursera’s more collaborative approach should certainly put the critics at ease. And there’s definitely an argument for evolving higher education that isn’t just computer science-oriented: This level of education and many of these subjects have simply been out of reach. Not many of us can afford to audit “A History of the World since 1300” Princeton University course; but thanks to the Internet — and Coursera — you can.
The demand is high, the interest is there, the funding is generous, and the momentum seems to be building in favor of higher education disruption. For Coursera’s focus, it might be slower going (history courses, after all, have a longer shelf life than iOS dev classes), but it’s definitely happening.