12th Jun2012

Coursera, and the alternative education paradigm

by Dorothy

Hello World. Thought of the evening is that Coursera is a really great concept. Signed up for some courses some time ago, and they’ve just started to run some of the classes, which is très exciting. I’ve never been a fan of confining learning to educational institutions or set periods of one’s life, so the ideals behind this site really appeal.

Amongst the many rather random questions that come to mind after the first session (I hopped into the Introduction to Sociology course at Princeton)

  • What this will mean for “branded education”. Coursera claim to provide courses from some of the top universities in the world, and interestingly, one of the readings for the Introduction to Sociology course involve an alternative perspective on the admissions to the Ivies. Should education then be limited only to the few who can gain entrance, or be available for all (as what Coursera purports to set out to do)? Can education in the Ivies continue to count as another way to distinguish between classes? Who are the people who will be drawn to this site beyond the first few sessions where they are merely curious, and what will they get out of the experience?
  • Impact on learning and certifiable education. Will a certificate from a reknowned institution then hold the same value in the distant future?
  • Virtual learning and interaction. This mode of learning takes away all geographical boundaries, if made more prevalent, would disrupt the typical move that would entail uprooting oneself to live on a college campus, changing the rite of passage into adulthood from adolescence for those who choose to learn online. Is this as real as being physically in a classroom, or is it even sustainable? It is one thing to take a single course online, but to do so for four years? Can one’s attention really be sustained this way?
  • What is the difference between learning in isolation and learning in a group? Online participants can volunteer to sit into webcam sessions and introduce themselves, interact with the actual classes etc, depending on the modules, which again is mutually beneficial for both sides.

The initiative reminds me somewhat of the LSBF Global MBA which debuted some time back, but this one seems simpler, cleaner, and stickier somehow, at least for me personally. Perhaps those familiar with academics would also be amused at the option to speed up the video of professors droning talking about their areas of expertise. Three options to speed up, only one to slow the video down…hmmm. Not a bad feature. (:

Just out of curiosity, checked out some charts from Google’s Ngram viewer and it seems that the concept of sociology peaked somewhere around 1975, and again in the mid 1990s, before a continuous decline all the way to present, at least in books. Maybe someone can explain the significance of this more.


Another random discovery – for a little red dot, there is a study group already active on the course forum, though nothing really substantial is being discussed in the forum (yet).



The quiz at the end of each video was a nice touch too, I shall take it as a good sign that I must have digested at least some of the main points by getting all these questions right even after dinner and a small pint. (: I blame the Interwebz for our short attention spans and wandering minds nowadays. At any rate, it will be interesting to see how this progresses, and if the community comes into play or otherwise, as time passes. Better than watching TV for sure (although apparently our generation doesn’t do that as much anymore…or so they report.)

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