I discovered Coursera a few years ago, though I can’t remember where I first read about it, and I fell totally in love with the concept. Coursera is all about open source learning. They offer courses in various subjects, taught by professors from universities all over the world. Right now, for example, I’m taking a course on Roman Architecture with a professor from Yale! I’ve never been to Yale, but I’m definitely living my Rory Gilmore dream with this course.
I love open source learning. Taking education from an ivory tower and removing some of the barriers helps people who couldn’t afford to go to college, or who couldn’t afford to go to large colleges, to learn. It adds education on top of college courses for people like me, who are perpetually curious. My university didn’t have a classics department; there were only two courses on Ancient Rome and Greece, one on Ancient Judaism, no Latin. But through Coursera I’m gaining a new understanding of Ancient Roman culture via their architecture.
Currently, I’m enrolled in three courses: Roman Architecture, Dinosaur Paleobiology, and Human Evolution. I love the format of the Dinosaur Paleobiology video lectures a little more, just because the Roman Architecture course seems to be essentially the same course taught in a classroom just recorded. It’s still a great course, but not as well designed for the internet as the Dino 101 course is.
You can also sign up for a verified certificate at the end of each course. This way, the Coursera system knows that you’ve actually done all of your assignments and that you were the one doing them. It’s great if what you’re learning is applicable to your job and could help you progress. If not, if you’re just learning for you, I would recommend not paying for the certificate because, though it would be nice, you still get the same content. But if your course is going to benefit your career in a meaningful way, do it. My mom, a medical technician, took a course on geriatric care and got the verified certificate because it helps her with her job and looks good to her bosses. I could imagine a teacher taking courses on pedagogical styles they hadn’t previously studied, paying for the certificate, and getting a benefit from their school district for it.
Coursera is a beautiful progression in education. Free learning, learning that anyone with access to a computer can do. Granted, there are still plenty of people in the world, and in this country, who don’t have access to a computer. But Coursera is a huge step toward educational equality. It’s a way to explore topics and decide if you really like them. It’s a way to learn about something you enjoy without having to pay for a course you maybe can’t afford. Most topics are covered, from business, to evolution, to history. I do have one qualm: there are never enough anthropology courses!
Give Coursera a shot, try out a course or two, and tell me what you think!