Online courses to target the masses

worldofcourseBOSTON — A leading US provider of online college courses today announced plans to expand into introductory level classes such as algebra and composition, marking a shift for a fledgling industry that has until now focused on specialised material.

Coursera, a popular for-profit provider of massive online open courses – known as MOOCs – will host a series of basic general education classes to be developed in partnerships with 10 state university systems across the United States.

“If we really want to move the needle, we can’t just stick with offering continuing education to lifelong learners,” said Daphne Koller, the Stanford computer scientist who co-founded Coursera. “We have to help people achieve degrees that will help them get a better life.”

Another top MOOC provider, Udacity, is launching a similar program this summer, teaming up with California’s San Jose State University to offer five introductory courses.

Until now, MOOCs have mainly focused on specialised courses – like computational neuroscience – taught by professors at top universities. Those MOOCs attracted millions of students, but the vast majority already had completed college in more traditional settings.

At Coursera, for example, 80 per cent of registrations come from students who already have at least a bachelor’s degree.

The new partnerships will provide the first significant evidence to date of whether students without a college background can succeed in MOOCs, which require participants to be self-directed and highly motivated.

Students who have struggled or are new to college “are the ones who most need a teacher who looks them in the eye and figures out how to motivate them,” said Greg Graham, who teaches introductory writing at the University of Central Arkansas.

Vince Kellen, a senior vice provost at the University of Kentucky, acknowledges the challenge but says it’s worth trying to expand the world of MOOCs. “We think this is a reasonable way to reach some students,” he said.

Kentucky is among the states joining Coursera for the new initiative. Others include New York, Colorado and Tennessee. Some states plan to grant credit to students who complete the online work while others will urge students to take the MOOCs to prepare for classes with high failure rates. (Reuters)

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