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We’ve wading into new territory this semester. We’re hardly alone. With over 75,000 learners from around the globe and spanning many decades, my younger son is exploring connections in world history. My older is finishing a science fiction and fantasy literature course while starting a class in beginning Python programming. We’ve sampled just a touch of what this mode of learning offers. At this writing, Coursera lists 198 MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), ranging from neuroscience to economics to physics. The preponderance of courses are in mathematics, computers, and science, with a smattering of business and liberal arts offerings making up the rest. All are free and, as the name suggests, all have massive attendance.
Unlike many previous free offerings from universities, these aren’t self-paced, self- evaluated classes. These run at the pace of a college course, albeit generally shorter. Coursera’s offerings run from three to twelve weeks in length with start times scattered throughout the calendar, so just about any time during the year, a class is beginning. While the format differs somewhat for each course, the basic set-up is the same. About two hours of lectures are released weekly, each broken up into shorter segments. Sometimes, an informal quiz falls at the end of the lecture, allowing the learner to check on his or her knowledge. Assessments vary, with objective quizzes dotting the schedules of some and peer-graded papers dominating in others. Some even have final exams. All have deadlines.
I love that last part.
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