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‘Ivy League Spring’ spreads; 4 more universities join free global classroom movement

Ivy League

The “Ivy League Spring,” a revolutionary disruption of higher education in which top universities are opening up courses to a global audience at no charge, is spreading. Coursera, a Web-based learning platform, announced that Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania have joined its open-classroom program. 

The announcement comes on the heels of MIT and Harvard University’s announcement of a joint collaboration in which the two top-tier universities would offer and support an open classroom platform that would bring courses, for free, over the Web to everyone across the globe.

Coursera also says Silicon Valley venture capitalists have blessed its business model, having just secured $16 million in venture capital funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and New Enterprise Associates. “Higher education is ripe for innovation: it is too expensive and limited to a few,” said John Doerr, partner at KPCB and education reform advocate.

Coursera is the brainchild of Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, who developed the university’s first online education platform, which served two courses and had a total enrollment of about 200,000. I had the opportunity to take Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun’s global course on artificial intelligence last fall, and was impressed by the high level of engagement he and his colleague, Peter Norvig, had enabled. Courses were delivered by YouTube video, pausing for quizzes at the end of each section.

Stanford reports there have been more than one million total enrollments across multiple courses.

Coursera structures courses into 10-15 minute video chunks that enable students to learn in bite-sized pieces and use a trajectory personalized to their interests and needs. Frequent interactive quizzes are also embedded in lecture videos that increase retention of material. In addition, it also provides sophisticated auto-graded exercises that give students instant feedback and enable mastery-based learning.

What’s the motivation for so many top-tier universities throwing open their doors to the world at no charge to students?  The economic disruption of higher education from online players offering no-cost or low-cost classes is creating tremendous pressure from below. Plus, there’s a value proposition for these institutions in that potential students from all over the world become acquainted with professors and university resources — and are likely to eventually become full-time, enrolled on-campus students.  Add to that the added value and knowledge that enhances on-campus learning environments. It’s truly a global classroom environment, which is essential for a global economy. 

Courses now underway or soon to be underway via Coursera include the following:

* Computer Science 101 (Stanford)

* Network, Friends, Money and Bytes (Princeton)

* Model Thinking (University of Michigan)

* Gamification (University of Pennsylvania)

* Machine Learning (Stanford)

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