The last years have seen a sudden emergence of platforms offering education on a – presumably – college level for free: starting with Sebastian Thrun’s now almost legendary AI-class, which gave rise to an illustrious set of start-ups mostly funded by American universities: among them Udacity, Coursera, edX and others.
After a euphoria about the coming democratization of higher education, the last months have shown that despite the free availability, users of those platform mostly come from a wealthy background and are already very highly educated. In addition, only a small subset of the users enrolling into such an online course actually do finish is or even just stick to it for more than the first week lectures.
As I have been an avid user of those platforms myself and have used the last month to refresh and deepen my knowledge on statistical analyses and data science in general – more on that in a different post – I am happy to see that Coursera has developed a new idea of how to monetize their product: While until now each of the courses stood on its own, Coursera has now introduced Specializations, a sequentially organized set of courses on a specific topic, offering certificates not only on a single course but on the complete Specialization. Those include somewhere between three and ten courses and a concluding capstone project. Specializations are not offered for free as the student has to earn a verified certificate to make sure it is actually he doing the assignments. But ranging from 29$ to 49$ per course, those costs seem reasonable.
To me, this sounds like a great model as it offers more value to the student by allowing him not only to collect certificates on isolated courses but a short structured program of attuned content, offering a deeper introduction into the topic. The capstone project at the end of the course even might have the character of a thesis, bringing together knowledge acquired in the separate classes. I have already done my introduction to data science and the other topics do not interest me as much right now, so that I won’t be enrolling in one of the ten Specializations offered, but – not being able to stop learning – I am already deeply involved in Stanford’s Introduction to Databases…