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Northwestern Partners With Coursera on MOOCs

University joins popular digital platform to offer “massive open online courses”

EVANSTON, Ill. --- In its newest entry into online education, Northwestern University has signed an agreement with Coursera to provide selected Northwestern courses to global students through Coursera’s digital platform for massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

The University and Coursera announced Wednesday (Feb. 20) that they will be partners in the latest group of 29 international and U.S. institutions to work with Coursera to make some of their courses available to anyone, anywhere, for free.

Coursera announced agreements with Northwestern and 28 other universities from 13 countries to bring more than 90 new courses online and available globally to any interested lifelong learner. The new group of universities -- including members from across America and from Mexico, Europe and Asia -- joins the 33 other institutions currently offering courses on Coursera. For a list of all partners, visit Coursera.

Coursera’s mission is to educate millions of people by offering a digital learning experience and classes and professors from top universities online at no cost. The company has a comprehensive education platform that combines mastery-based learning principles with video lectures, interactive content and a global community of peers.

“We’re delighted to be joining Coursera in this exciting initiative in online education,” said Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer.

“The University’s primary goal in working on the development of MOOCs is to give Northwestern faculty opportunities to experiment with new teaching tools, to reach a new and broader audience and to have an impact that extends beyond the campus,” Linzer said. 

“We are very interested in evaluating learning outcomes from new modes of education,” he said. “This will allow us to explore new pedagogical and course delivery methods. It also will help us expand the visibility and impact of our faculty and our institution.”

This is the second separate foray into a new kind of online education for Northwestern in the last three months. This one could reach thousands of students all over the world who might not otherwise have an opportunity to have access to higher education. 

In November, the University announced it had joined a consortium of leading universities to launch an innovative education program that would transform the current model of online education. Semester Online, the new program, will be the first of its kind to offer undergraduate students the opportunity to take rigorous, small, online courses for credit from a consortium of top universities at comparable college costs. The program will be delivered in real time through a virtual classroom environment and interactive platform developed by 2U, a leader in delivering selective graduate degree and undergraduate, for-credit programs online.

Now the University is going one step further by engaging in the development of MOOCs. Unlike the Semester Online program, which will serve students from Northwestern and other consortium member universities, the new partnership with Coursera will deliver MOOCs and a different kind of opportunity to students across the globe. It will enable Northwestern professors to try out new online teaching methods for a world audience. The same course could be taken by an advanced high school student in Evanston, a worker in Paris or a mother in Beijing.

The Coursera model offers non-credit courses through a platform that allows open enrollment with no admissions requirements, no tuition costs and an asynchronous course delivery, so students can complete the coursework at times convenient for them. Elements of the procedures Northwestern faculty learn by helping develop MOOCs may be adapted over time to on-campus teaching at the University, as well. 

“It’s an exciting time in higher education,” Linzer observed, “and this partnership will permit us to promote innovative efforts by our faculty to explore new methods of teaching and reaching students wherever they are.”

Visit Coursera to see some of the potential Northwestern MOOCs in preparation.

“We have been humbled by how quickly Coursera has grown in less than a year, and we’re working hard to continue to build our network of university partners to offer a high-quality learning experience to anyone who wants it,” said Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller. “One of our top priorities is to reach the people who need education the most, including those who would not otherwise have access to the type of courses offered by the institutions that we have the honor of working with.”

Among the 28 new institutions included with Northwestern in the announcement were:

  • California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • École Polytechnique, France
  • Penn State University
  • Rutgers University
  • Sapienza Università di Roma
  • The University of Tokyo
  • Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
  • University of Colorado, Boulder
  • University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison

Among the new partners are 16 international institutions, which broaden Coursera’s course offerings not only by subject, but also across diverse perspectives and in multiple languages, with new courses available in native language French, Spanish, Chinese and Italian.

Additionally, Coursera now will host more courses from universities at the top of their respective fields, representing some of the leading schools of business, medicine, engineering and the arts. All this adds up to a deeper and broader course catalog that students from a wide array of backgrounds can access in order to pursue their academic, career and personal goals.

Since Coursera launched in April 2012, the company has registered a total of more than 2.7 million students and is seeing approximately 1.45 million course enrollments per month. To join millions of other lifelong learners, prospective students can register at Coursera.

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