Education has come of age in the digital era. MOOCs, or Massive Online Open Courses, first became viral three years through the first artificial intelligence online course offered by the forerunner of what became Udacity. Ever since then this whole industry has exploded. We’re now seeing courses with thousands of students enrolling to learn new skills and upgrade old ones. Udacity in particular has continued to pioneer new territory in this industry by offering a wide range of courses in technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship that culminate with verified certificates of completion. Udacity is also rolling out courses for credit that count towards an online Master’s degree in computer science through partnership with Georgia Tech.
Coursera is another major contributor and innovator in the MOOC space that offers a different kind of approach to online education than Udacity. Instead of focusing on technology courses like Big Data, web development, computer science, ect., Coursera partners with top name institutions to offer courses in subjects as diverse as physics, engineering, humanities, medicine, biology, social sciences, mathematics, business, computer science, and other subjects. As of April 2014, Coursera has 7.1 million users in 641 courses from 108 institutions. The mission statement of Coursera is insightful and shows its aim to make free education a truly global imperative:
Coursera is an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.
Like Udacity, Coursera is very much an innovator in the area of verified certification. In the beginning of 2013 it started its Signature Track program, which gives students options to pay between $30 and $100 per course and provide validation measures like photo verification and keystroke monitoring. Upon successful completion of the coursework, students receive an electronic certificate from Coursera as well as the school offering the course. In many cases, certification may require not just one but a whole a series of courses to be completed, along with a final capstone project. To earn the Specialization Certificate, students are required to complete the Signature Track and in some cases earn Distinction for all the required courses, as well as complete the Capstone project. Payment plans are reasonable; students pay for each course as they start if and if they don’t pass, a second chance is provided free of charge.
Coursera reached a major milestone in the Fall of 2013 when it announced a total of 25,000 signups through its Signature Track program with total revenue of $1 million. In the words of the company, “the success of the Signature Track program validates the potential for students to benefit from what is becoming a brand new currency for lifelong learning achievement.”
Again, to reiterate our original aim and purpose in this series, MOOC platforms like Udacity and Coursera are pioneering new and exciting initiatives to make first rate technology and science education available to everyone on the globe for free. Modest cost options are available to those who wish to receive certification for their efforts. Coursera reports that more than 70 percent of the students paying for the verified certificates have a bachelor’s degree or higher and are using the courses and certification to prove proficiency to an employer or to strengthen a resume, cover letter or LinkedIn profile.
Chances are likely that if you’re reading this you’ve thought at some point about updating some skills or mastering a new discipline altogether. The challenge is often with time; how does one balance a full-time job and, oftentimes, family responsibilities, with the demands of outside coursework? Well, thanks to Udacity and Coursera, there’s no need to worry about sitting in a classroom. Instead, you can attend worldclass courses remotely from anywhere in the world and study on your own schedule.
Check back here tomorrow as we continue the discussion on how online learning platforms are changing the face of global education in the digital age.