I recently stumble into an interesting online training site Coursera, it has an unique online training offering.
Coursera host online training from different university, There are 142 participating partners from 28 countries. It is currently offering over 1800 courses. What is fascinating is that most of the courses were created and taught by university professors.
It has an interesting business model, most courses are free and you only pay if you want to get a completion certificate for the course. This is very inviting as you can try out the classes and take your time to determine if the class is a good fit for you. If you do purchase the certificate, your learning record becomes official, and you can link the shareable certificate to your resume or online social network, like LinkedIn.
There are other online training site that requires you to pay upfront or in some cases, subscribe with a monthly fees. But one of the major issue for many online classes are quality control. Online training is wonderful as it is very open, anybody can create an online course, range from different sophistication from a YouTube video to an online training website, but this also means that there is very little guarantee on the class materials.
With Coursera, the idea that the courses are associated with university and taught by professors seems to be a promise for some quality control, in addition to certification or eventually maybe even some college credit. I do believe that proper student assessment maybe difficult to enforce but I believe it is a start to the right direction.
I took a class just so that I can review the quality of the class materials and the technologies it uses for the online classroom. Here are some of my thoughts.
Class is well structure with description, syllabus, grade policy, and week by week class schedule. There are lecture materials which are usually video clips but designed to be byte size so usually under 15 minutes.
Each week usually ends with a short quiz and some assignments. If the assignment requires you to do some coding, there is an online code editor and an auto-grader that will validate the code you created. A side note is that the code for the auto-grader itself is also open source and you can find that in GitHub (if you are interested). Below is an example to enter Python code online.
Both quizzes and coding assignments can be done multiple time, so that in case if you fail the first time, you can try again. There are suggested deadline, but usually as long as you do them before the end of the class session, it is accepted. There is also an interesting feature where if you somehow did not complete your class on time, you can switch to a later class session. This is very useful as it will transfer all your works so far to the new session.
There is a grade panel where you can see a summary of your grades, very handy to catch if you missed any assignment or if you have a low grade, you can redo it.
There are also additional discussion forum and extra bonus videos that show some face to face activities between the professor and students. This really help to bridge that gap that online classes usually are very lonely, anything added to create a group atmosphere are always welcome.
Now I feel that one very important idea is missing if Coursera really want to build a reputation regarding certification, that is verification of the student. This is always a challenging aspect of any online interaction, how to ensure that it is the actual student is doing the quiz or assignment? Coursera is doing very little in this aspect, and it is a free for all if anybody is trying to cheat.
In addition to individual classes, there is a concept of subject specialization. This provide you a suggested list of classes in sequence that will extend your expertise on that subject. This is an excellent idea as it help to guide the student through the maze of many classes.
Finally, the pricing for the certificate seems to be reasonable, usually under $100 per class. But once again, I’m not sure how it will be evaluated in the professional world.
Overall, Coursera is a very good online training site. And the idea of many classes are absolutely free really help anybody to sharpen their skills set at the own convenience time.
Reference : https://www.coursera.org
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