Quoted: on Coursera as ‘big believer’ in educational system

“We actually are big believers in the educational system. And while we think the system is long overdue for an overhaul, we don’t want to throw it away and start from scratch.”

Daphne Koller, co-founder and co-CEO of Coursera, the Mountain-View based provider of free online courses, tells the Wall Street Journal her startup isn’t looking to “throw out the university.” (Some professors, including those at San Jose State University, have spoken out against massive online open courses known as MOOCs.) But Coursera now has 69 partner institutions, including universities such as Stanford, Princeton and Columbia. Koller also said  the company — backed by Kleiner Perkins and others — has already brought in “non-trivial” revenue from certificate fees. Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng, who like Koller teaches at Stanford, said late last year that online learning “changes the economics of education.” Koller expands on how: Ideally, instructors should gain more time to teach. And students who go at their own pace should “achieve mastery in a topic” before going on to another class they may fail and have to take over, she says.


Photo of Coursera founders Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller from Associated Press archives


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  • Ted Vaczy

    While I can see the benefits of using Coursera as a supplemental form of teaching, I dont see how it can be used to earn official college credits for classes taken. Yes you can have quizzes and tests, but to the professor, you are an unknown – as a person, as a student. You are just a subscriber and potentially a revenue source. There is no two-way interaction. And even if the technology supported two-way dialogue how do you handle a hundred people raising their hands for the opportunity to speak in a massively online open environment? Not to mention how do you handle course work that requires hands-on experience such as a chemistry lab, a microscope, an electrical engineering lab etc.?

    Plus, there are truly outstanding professors who can lead a discussion on philosophy or literature and the experience one has up close and personal, is hard if not impossible to emulate online.

    I might also add that half of the learning I experienced going to college was social development – from living in dorms and interacting with a whole new set of people in (initially) an unfamiliar environment. Online learning just encourages the youngest generation to continue to cloister themselves behind the screen of a computer, isolated and disconnected from the real world and other people.

    Ultimately online learning leads to additional fragmentation of the higher education market. Those with the brains and the means will continue to attend the elite private schools (such as the co-founders’ alma mater Stanford), others to lower tier private and state schools, others to community college and yet others are left with online learning.

    As a supplemental tool for education, Coursera is fine, as a replacement for traditional class room based education, I dont think it can compare. We are not comparing apples to apples.

    The other issue that no one seems willing to address is the fact that many college students today (I’m thinking of the straight out of high school variety), do not belong in college. American society has created the stigma that if you don’t go to college you are a less accomplished and worthy individual. This forces many, who really haven’t even mastered high school subject matter (hence the need for remedial Math and English in college) to head off to college to undertake a process of higher education that is of no interest to them. Vocational and skilled trades educations are looked down upon. I’d be more impressed if Coursera could offer some classes in the vocational space, as an alternative to college for the millions of college students who really dont want to be in college (and shouldn’t be).