Providers of free online college courses add schools, including many foreign ones

February 21, 2013

Two major providers of free online higher education are expanding the ranks of universities that contribute courses to their Web sites, adding many schools from outside the United States.

Coursera, based in Mountain View, Calif., plans to announce Thursday that 29 universities and institutes are joining the online venture that was launched last spring, bringing the total to 62. Among the newcomers are prominent schools in Mexico and Spain, which will enable free courses to reach the Spanish-speaking world, and schools in Hong Kong and Taiwan, which will provide access to those who speak Chinese.

EdX, a nonprofit organization based in Cambridge, Mass., announced late Wednesday that it is adding six universities to a consortium that Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began last spring. With the expansion, EdX will offer courses from 11 colleges and universities as well as the University of Texas system. Five of the new EdX partners are from Australia, the Netherlands, Canada and Switzerland.

The twin expansions reflect a surge of interest from around the world in what are known as massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Millions of users have signed up in the past year for free courses through the two Web sites and others such as Udacity, drawn by access to video instruction from world-class professors.

Locally, the universities of Maryland and Virginia and Johns Hopkins University have teamed with Coursera. Georgetown University has joined with EdX.

So far, all content on EdX and most content on Coursera has been delivered in English. Coursera said it soon will offer courses in French, Spanish, Chinese and Italian. Among the institutions joining Coursera are IE Business School in Madrid, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, National Taiwan University and Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“It makes us much more of a global education enterprise,” said Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng, a Stanford University computer scientist.

Among the new EdX partners are Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the Swiss school known as EPFL, Australian National University (ANU), and McGill University and the University of Toronto, both in Canada. There is talk of EdX hosting ANU courses in Hindi and EPFL courses in French, said EdX President Anant Agarwal, an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

“It’s really important to get international partners,” Agarwal said. “It’s about languages; it’s about viewpoints; it’s about culture, absolutely. It’s really about diversity.”

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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