Who says you need school to get educated?

Image from coursera.com

At present, one of the largest issues and problems facing people –whether college students or working adults- is the lack of readily available, and not to mention affordable and quality education, or academic sources of information.  I stumbled onto Coursera on Tumblr, which is a site that offers 100+ courses from big name universities such as Harvard, Stanford and UMich. 100 odd courses from some of the best thinkers in the world – all free for the taking. According to the Seattle Times, Coursera fills a growing demand for college-level education, which I believe is growing to be of greater importance in society. Not just so one can get a job, no, but for intellectual exploration, and also to satiate the public’s growing thirst for lifelong education. This niche, however, isn’t new, and I discovered a list of 500+ courses from top universities all free for the taking, but for the sake of this article, I will just discuss Coursera as an example.

As a high school student, I see Coursera as a means of indulging in my interests, especially the one by UMich on Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. While these are college-level courses, if I had 10 weeks to spare, I’d definitely sign up, and with Coursera on the path to democratizing (college) education and making it available for anyone, anywhere, it definitely begs the question of how Coursera will be used in the future? With Coursera, college education is not only limited to a small number of exclusive (elites, maybe) who are able to get themselves into a particular college. Brilliance and thought are now accessible to anyone with a broadband connection. Personally, I would not forgo college for online classes such as Coursera, as not only does Coursera not grant a degree, I don’t think online learning can truly replace the social and physical nature of real college life, but Coursera, like other online learning platforms such as Duolingo, make it possible to, a Mark Twain said, never let school interfere with one’s education.

Coursera, as well as distance learning, however, is not perfect yet. Research has shown that it is less effective with younger learners, especially. And while Coursera is for-profit, we need to ask ourselves how the progression of this niche will impact college education in 5, 10 – maybe 20 years. Imagine not paying a cent for the same course that someone else pays 40 grand to attend. Is it necessarily and definitively good or bad to make education open and accessible? I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not enough of a skeptic, but Coursera, and the opening up for information and knowledge, seems pretty damn awesome.

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