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Massive Open Online Courses

In the fall of 2011 there were three classes offered from Stanford University that changed the entire spirit of higher education. These three classes “Machine Learning”, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence”, and “Introduction to Databases” were not only offered for free, but they were open to everyone on the planet [1]. By lowering the barrier to entry for higher education, these classes allowed anyone who wanted to learn the opportunity to do so. The demand for these classes was amazing and many professors saw the potential open online courses, leading to the creation of several startups created around the idea of offering high quality educational material online for free.

The idea that such high quality classes are taught online and are available to anyone is mind blowing. This is one of the things that shows how positively the internet can influence the world. Here are a few of the sites that offer massive open online courses (MOOC) and brief selection of the courses they’re offering.


Coursera offers classes that mimic traditional college classes and has the most eclectic mix of classes available online. There are strict deadlines for homework sets and each week the professor uploads numerous lectures. One of great things about Coursera is the forum system. Each class has a forum where you and your classmates can go to ask and answer questions about the course. Often the professors will post in the forums making for a high quality destination for discussing in depth concepts about the course. Princeton, Stanford, The University of Chicago, and Johns Hopkins University have all offered classes at Coursera.

Some upcoming classes being offered from Coursera include: 9/11 and Its Aftermath – Part I, Analysis of Algorithms, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry, and An Introduction to Operations Management (I’ve already signed up, join me!).


Udacity was started by Sebastian Thrun, one half of the professors of original “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence”offered from Stanford. Udacity offers many go at your own pace classes taught by world renowned professors. One of the can’t miss classes (Web Development) that I highly recommend is not actually taught by a university professor, but by Steve Huffman, one of the creators of Reddit. The Web Development class benefitted greatly from having an instructor who used the concepts he was teaching professionally. As for the structure of the courses, they usually consist of videos that are accompanied by quizzes throughout and homework sets for each section of the class. The majority of the classes I’ve audited at Udacity have been top notch.


edX is a joint effort created by Harvard and MIT. Since it started, UC-Berkeley, The University of Texas, Georgetown, and many more have also joined in to offer courses on edX. I’ve personally never taken a class from one this site, but it looks to be structured a lot like Coursera. Some classes that are currently running or are scheduled for edx include: Introduction to Solid State Chemistry, The Ancient Greek Hero, and Innovation and Commercialization.

Since MOOCs have exploded, I’ve signed up for at least 20 classes. Even though I’ve only finished a small fraction of the classes (three of them to be exact), I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons. Consider the recent Startup Engineering class offered at Coursera. This class was a survey of how to start a technology company and focused on the tools and effort needed to be successful. This guidance is priceless and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to be exposed to such ideas all in one convenient place.

So why should you take an MOOC? In short, to learn! Since the classes are free, there is no reason not to sign up for a class if you see one that interests you. With the selection that is out there, especially if you’re interested in picking up some valuable Computer Science knowledge, you’ll find so many classes that are interesting that you won’t have time to keep up with all of them. Happy learning to everyone!

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Published on 9/12/2013 4:01:00 PM

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