2013 January 08 Tuesday
Online Learning Continues Fast Growth

The online learning site Coursera is taking off.

The co-founders, computer science professors at Stanford University, watched with amazement as enrollment passed two million last month, with 70,000 new students a week signing up for over 200 courses, including Human-Computer Interaction, Songwriting and Gamification, taught by faculty members at the company’s partners, 33 elite universities.

This is happening just in time as the threshold for employability is rising. Start preparing now for unstable employment and a declining demand for many kinds of labor. Seriously, if you are currently employed it would be far eaiser to prepare now for your eventual change in employment and even in occupation and career for many.

Academia is next in line to get hit by (a long overdue) massive restructuring. People experiencing declining living standards increasingly can't afford to send their kids to colleges which are going to send those kids out into the workforce heavily indebted.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 January 08 09:45 PM 

Lono said at January 9, 2013 8:38 AM:

I am really loving Coursera - and most of my fellow Mensans - many of whom already have multiple advanced degrees - are using this resource extensively to already expand upon their considerable knowledge base.

One does have to restrain themselves a bit - but if you are focused - the free courses available now are really top notch.

The Undiscovered Jew said at January 9, 2013 4:42 PM:

Academia is next in line to get hit by (a long overdue) massive restructuring.

From a politically partisan viewpoint, automating college classes will lead to mass layoffs of liberal professors.

Especially vulnerable to automation will be the non-STEM and non-business departments (where the absolute craziest liberal academics reside) because their departments budgets are overly reliant* on getting their funding via basic freshmen and sophomore "101" courses that are the easiest to replace with online MOOCs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin just setup an online flexible degree program that will allow any college student pursuing four year degrees to knock out their freshmen and sophomore gen ed classes via online tests.

From a eugenics perspective, eliminating gened reqs will cut time it takes for students to get a degree almost in half because the basic courses usually take up between 45-60 credits of the 120 needed to earn a bachelors.

Below, a Wisconsin English professor** fears he may lose his job of indoctrinating students with liberal propaganda if they can test out of his English 101 classes:


Restricting general education courses to a select few will be extremely unpopular with some faculty. There are large numbers of teaching jobs at stake: many departments that now teach popular general education courses could lose half or more of their students. If that were to occur, financial sanity dictates that faculty jobs in those programs be cut.

Bradley Butterfield: We must value liberal arts education


Walker also announced his support for a new “competency-based degree model that will transform higher education in Wisconsin” called the UW Flexible Degree option. This will allow “individuals who have learned skills from their employment, from military service or from other areas to work toward a degree at their own pace” and to satisfy their degree requirements by passing competency-based exams.

But this plan to “revolutionize higher education” is not just about granting technical degrees to people who have more than mastered the skills they need outside of the classroom. “Additionally,” to quote the program’s website, “students can use the flexible option to complete the general education requirements toward any four-year degree.”

While efforts to make higher education more manageable and affordable for nontraditional students are laudable, the troubling assumptions behind Walker’s remarks and the flexible-degree option are that serving the economy is the point of higher education, if not of life itself, and that students learn nothing in their general education courses that cannot be learned through job experience and/or tested with a skills-based competency exam.


Turning American universities into vocational schools — which is the path this “revolution” would start us down — will not only result in a dearth of great leaders; it also will undermine our democracy. A healthy democracy depends upon educated citizens — not just workers educated in doing their jobs, but citizens educated broadly enough to know that the way things are is never the way things have to be.

Such educated citizens can relate any given situation to the various concepts and perspectives they’ve encountered in their studies. They’re less likely to blindly follow the demagogues of prejudice and war, and more likely to organize politically when their values are under attack. They’re less likely to fear and revile those who are different, and more likely to see them as fellow sufferers deserving respect.

The Undiscovered Jew said at January 9, 2013 5:05 PM:

The colleges fear eliminating or automating prereqs will cost them money and opportunities to indoctrinate students. Dartmouth faculty just voted to refuse to accept AP classes for college credit which makes it harder for undergrads to graduate early. Dartmouth commenters blasted the decision on their online student newspaper:

Registrar to restrict AP, IB credits


The College’s new policy to stop accepting pre-matriculation credits for incoming students may impact students who wish to save on tuition by graduating early. The change, voted upon by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on Nov. 12, will take effect beginning with the Class of 2018, according to Registrar Meredith Braz.

The College previously accepted students’ qualifying scores on Advanced Placement, A-Level and International Baccalaureate examinations as credits, exemptions and placements in some subjects. The faculty has been considering a vote to eliminate such pre-matriculation credits for about 10 years, according to the Committee on Instruction Chair Hakan Tell, who brought the proposal before the faculty.

The faculty based their affirmative vote on concerns that courses completed in high school do not equal Dartmouth coursework, Tell said.

no i don't said at January 11, 2013 11:54 AM:

We have been seeing an unprecedented interest in online education for the past few years."

It's not that there's lots of interest in online education. It's that going to college has become the privilege of the elites and the impossibility of the great majority. Online education seems like the only other option many real students can have. Well, no. Not really. There's also the opportunity to study for free in other countries, too. But that's probably harder than online.

James Bowery said at January 11, 2013 2:50 PM:

One would think there would be an enormous market gap for standardized tests as the natural complement to the revolution in knowledge dissemination -- particularly since there is a clear conflict of interest between educating and credentialing. I mean, what rational actor would trust the credential awarded by those whose educational prowess is being tested? Clearly, no rational actor would.

Just as clearly, there is something irrational with institutions that accept such unethically awarded credentials. Since virtually all institutions exhibit this irrationality, there is a systemic problem.

Guess what it is?

Randall Parker said at January 12, 2013 1:49 PM:

The Undiscovered Jew,

Thanks for those links. I'll write a post on the push-back from academics for AP and other earned credits. Dartmouth's opposition: Love it. Educational Luddites.

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is showing the way. So is the Western Governors University. So is Coursera.

What's going to happen to Dartmouth: Kids that have 2 years of college credits by the time they hit 18 are going to pass on Dartmouth. The advantages of a degree earned at age 19 or 20 is going to outweigh the advantages of an Ivy League education.

Besides, the vast majority of college students do not go to the Ivy or near Ivy. They won't lose anything by just getting out of a state U a couple of years earlier. Today no employer cares that a UC Berkeley grad might have spent 2 years at a community college before going to Berkeley. Similarly, they won't care if U Wisc grads only spent 2 years at U Wisc.

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