Coursera is offering any university hit by coronavirus lockdowns free access to its online teaching platform, as the online education provider seeks to bolster its role as a legitimate alternative to campus-based study.
Harvard, Stanford and Columbia are among several top universities that have halted classroom teaching since the virus took hold, turning to video streaming systems and web-based conferencing technology to ensure that students can continue to be taught by their professors.
“As a platform committed to serving learners everywhere, we are launching a global effort to help mitigate the impact on higher ed institutions,” said Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera’s chief executive.
Online education providers have met with mixed success, with platforms such as Coursera, 2U and FutureLearn suffering from low completion rates on many courses. They have sought to address this by partnering bricks-and-mortar institutions so that courses taken online are accepted towards university certified degrees.
Universities have also been building their own online teaching systems, investing heavily in virtual classroom technology such as holograms and web conferencing rooms.
IESE Business School in Barcelona, for example, has a virtual classroom, in which up to 80 people can interact as if they were in the same place. The institution announced this week that full-time MBA students would temporarily be taught online.
California-based Coursera, whose courses can be taken entirely online, will modify existing programmes on its Coursera for Campus platform for open access. It will also make it easy for universities to offer existing Coursera content, devised by universities and other training providers, to students without interruption.
Yale University, Imperial College London and HEC Paris are among the universities and business schools that have already signed up as paying members of Coursera for Campus.
A test case for the free offering was run by Duke University, another client, involving almost 600 students at its campus in Kunshan, China.
“We are thinking of this as first aid,” said Matthew Rascoff, associate vice provost for digital education and innovation at Duke. “Coming to college is not just about studying for courses and this cannot replicate the opportunities creating by students and faculty meeting face to face, but it does help us reproduce some of the formal learning online.”
Of 49m students studying on Coursera’s platform, 3.1m are in mainland China and Hong Kong, making those countries the group’s third-biggest market globally by number of registered learners.