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online education for the masses

A big step forward for online education: Coursera has announced that students can now apply credit to their college degree for five of its free courses. 

Public confidence in massive open online courses (“MOOC’s”) was hit hard this week when Coursera suspended one its online courses due to technical glitches and complaints. A bit ironically, as GigaOm points out, the course in question was intended to teach students how to optimize online education. 

Coursera competitor Udacity recently announced a pilot program in conjunction with San Jose State University to offer online courses for college credit. But Coursera claims to be the first to gain a recommendation from American Council on Education (ACE). About 2000 colleges and universities in the U.S. currently accept this form of ACE approved credit.


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The five courses approved today are four undergraduate credit courses:

  • Pre-calculus from the University of California, Irvine.
  • Introduction to Genetics and Evolution from Duke University.
  • Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach from Duke University.
  • Calculus: Single Variable from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Algebra from the University of California, Irvine (but only as a vocational credit).

Students that complete one of these classes can request a transcript with credit recommendations. Credit is granted at the discretion of the institution. 

“We are excited by this opportunity to experiment with new ways of using our MOOC [massive open online] courses to extend our educational reach and provide credit for students who would not otherwise have access to our faculty,” said Duke Provost Peter Lange in a statement.

The company revealed that it will continue to push for more of its courses to be transferrable as college credit. Daphne Koller, Coursera’s cofounder, said that by adding these credential options, they hope to “increase the rate of degree completion and reduce the burden of college debt.”

Coursera’s founders — former Stanford professors — expect to experience their fair share of ups and downs as the technology evolves. In a recent interview with VentureBeat, Coursera’s founder Andrew Ng said it has been a “slow road”, but the company’s success proves online education is “no passing fad.” Universities like Brown and Duke currently offer free courses on Coursera.

Coursera has raised over $22 million in funding to date from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and New Enterprise Associates, among others.

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