College Knowledge, for free!

With the growth of companies like Coursera, we have new reason to get excited about online education. Coursera offers college-level classes in many areas, from computer science and philosophy, to biology and poetry. The classes are taught by real university professors from the likes of Princeton and Stanford. The courses are entirely online. And anyone can have access to them. Because they are free!

Coursera made the news recently because it now offers courses from nine new universities and two new investors, for a total of 16 participating institutions. (See the Huffington Post article.) As of today, they offer 111 total courses covering math, the sciences, technology, and humanities.

Online learning – especially free online learning – is opening doors to making the world a smarter place. Higher education topics might no longer be exclusive to those attending prestigious universities. And where you live or how much money you have might not matter when it comes to educational resources. The possibilities are exciting.

How does free, online education affect mathematics and the sciences? I think that opening up higher-level sciences to a wider reach of consumers will increase scientific literacy everywhere. Many people who lack the time and money to attend university full-time (or who don’t live near a university) could not consider taking any technical courses in science. They have their own jobs and lives to focus on – why bother with science? But with free online classes, more people will be able to fit science in their lives. Whether it is a layperson’s interest in cryptography, or a biologist keeping up-to-date with biostatistics, Coursera can provide the knowledge. Hopefully online learning will gain in popularity, and there will be more courses to choose from.

As soon as my own college courseload lightens up, I plan to take a Coursera class myself, just to see what it’s like. I was interested in the areas of economics or neuroscience. Would you consider taking an online class? Remember, it’s free. Just add passion!