Learning online: Coursera and EdX

A while back I mentioned playing the “if I went back to school, what would I study” game.

Which I also mentioned isn’t going to happen. It gets tempting, though–there are a lot of things I’d like to learn, partly for writing and partly just for fun. Taking a class would make me focus on learning (part of) a subject in a reasonable amount of time. But I’m not going to spend money or a lot of time on it, or I’d never get any writing done.

Enter the wonder of the Internet and the future that we live in. A couple weeks ago I ran across a mention of Coursera, and last week, EdX made big news. If you haven’t heard about these, here’s the deal:

They’re both websites that offer free online courses–with lectures, homework, exams, and interaction with professors and other students. But, probably no grades, maybe a certificate of completion, definitely no real credit.

EdX is a team effort of Harvard and MIT (warning: the site auto-plays a video). Coursera has courses from Stanford, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Coursera has started offering some courses, and EdX will begin in the fall, though MIT is currently running a course in electrical circuits.

I resisted the circuits class, but have signed up for three classes through Coursera (in series, not parallel–ok, I’ll stop with the puns now). I’ll be starting Intro to Sociology in June, a literature class on fantasy and science fiction in July, and a history class in September.

Unlike reading by myself, I can’t pick the exact topic and I can’t necessarily go at my own snail’s pace, but I think being able to interact with other people doing the same readings/hearing the same lectures will be a big benefit. And as I busy person, I have to admit that it being free and online makes it more tempting because missing a week for whatever reason won’t really matter.

I’m also just curious to see what these kinds of classes are like. Are these huge, free courses the new future of education, or a fad? Will I learn anything or are they just a marketing tool?

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