Delving into Coursera

I’ve been tasked with looking into Coursera. I am sure I’m just another voice in this sea of opinion currently. My immediate cultural observation is how venture capital interest and investment has been obfuscated with a ‘saving the world’ narrative. To be brief, at the time of launch there was an emotive TED talks about opportunity and giving the gift of learning. This contrasted with earlier interviews with the founders (at Standford) about how they used students to build a platform in response to the problems of stability emerging from giving public access to back-catalogue computer courses. Today, Coursera is branded with some alignment with Stanford and not the venture capitalists that helped establish Netscape and later Amazon. So I’m a little suspicious about the ethics of Coursera, however I’m willing to move past that in order to look at what it does – as a learning experience.

I’ve joined a class and enrolled for two more. From a design stance, I see Coursera (and rivals) as the further domestication of computing into consumer culture. I’m not so sure they replace anything, let alone destroy the joint.

To that end the reductionist interface and clean typography seem perfectly sensible for people who haven’t been living in the ‘ed-tech’ bubble. I don’t mind the use of short videos at all – they are certainly more likely to be watched than hour long monologues.

I like the use of classroom seminars to give a ‘fly on the wall’ view of a small group discussion too. I don’t particularly agree that what comes out of MOOCs is all that important. I was always a fan of Stephen Downes vision of emergent networks that worked towards some worthy goal. I don’t even mind if they are edutainment, as I do like the History Channel and Discovery Channel too.

For me I see more value in using MOOCS as learning-enablers – perhaps to dream up more imaginative pathways to getting into degrees or getting a better job, but I draw the line at them being used to deceive people into joining ‘freemium’ cut down courses in order to up-sell them. This is for the same reason I hate edu-games which try to deceive kids into learning.

There is a strong potential for politicians to see this in Australian as a potential public/private partnership. These things have been problematic when attempting to build other infrastructure such as roads, so around this, I think I might explore that a little.


One thought on “Delving into Coursera

  1. I am a big fan of Coursera, but that’s because it gives me the opportunity to explore free educational opportunities in my areas of interest. I have learned a lot from doing Coursera classes, but I fully agree that we have to be careful about seeing something like Coursera, or any MOOC, as a replacement for or even alternative to traditional forms of education. Far more here than in any other type of education, you get out of it exactly what you put in. Saying “I did this MOOC” is definitely not any indication of what that person knows or learned. Like you, I enjoy things like the Discovery Channel, and Coursera to me is really an extension of that. 🙂

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