Online learning giant Coursera will give colleges free access to 3,800 courses, as the coronavirus pandemic forces a switch to remote learning

  • E-learning platform Coursera is granting universities free access to its 3,800 courses until July 31, as the coronavirus pandemic forces a global shift to remote learning, the company announced Thursday
  • Universities are “essentially being forced to experiment with — and very rapidly adopt — some kind of online education,” Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda told Business Insider. “So it’s a really difficult adjustment.”
  •  Coursera’s announcement comes as US universities begin to send their students home to help contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
  • Coursera has already proved useful for Duke University, which used Coursera for Campus to teach students at its Duke Kunshan campus, based in Wuhan, China.
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Universities forced to send their students home amid the coronavirus pandemic now have a free resource to help them transition from the lecture hall to laptop. 

Online learning platform Coursera announced Thursday that it would begin granting universities free access to its 3,800 courses until July 31, as the coronavirus pandemic forces a global shift to remote learning.

“We are launching a global effort to assist universities and colleges seeking to offer online courseware in response to the coronavirus,” a press release from Coursera said. “Starting today, we’ll provide every impacted university in the world with free access to our course catalogue through Coursera for Campus.” 

Coursera’s announcement comes as US universities begin to send their students home to minimize concerns over the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia are but a few of the universities that have announced a transition to remote learning.

Universities are “essentially being forced to experiment with — and very rapidly adopt — some kind of online education,” Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda told Business Insider. “So it’s a really difficult adjustment.”

And in some cases, universities have acknowledged that the decision to abruptly begin that transition will leave professors in the lurch. 

“Despite our best efforts to bring the University’s resources to bear on this virus, we are still faced with uncertainty – and the considerable unease brought on by uncertainty,” Harvard university president, Lawrence Bacow wrote in a letter announcing the news.“To our faculty, I recognize that we are asking you midway through the semester to completely rethink how you teach. We do this because we know that you want to avoid putting your students at risk.” 

Close to 200 companies and universities have already partnered with Coursera to help design its curricula for certain courses, allowing it to package and customize courses for its students. But colleges and universities now forced to immediately adapt to the world of remote learning may also find Coursera’s resources useful, especially in the short-term, Maggioncalda said. 

“Generally, a university will package the courses in a way that’s very customized to their students, and they typically aren’t on a huge timetable to do that,” Maggioncalda explained. “We’ve pre-packaged certain collections of courses so that universities can move a little bit faster.” 

Coursera has begun helping universities mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Duke University has been using Coursera for Campus to teach students at its Duke Kunshan campus, based in Wuhan, China, which is where the virus originated

Accelerating the remote trend

By making one of its products free, Coursera is following the example already set by companies offering remote-working tools.

Google is giving free access to the enterprise version of Hangouts Meet to all G Suite users, a plan that allows up to 250 users to join a call, until July 1, 2020. And Zoom, which already offers its video-conferencing software for free, has lifted the 40 minute limit on meetings for its users in China.  The company is also offering its services to colleges and universities in China, according to a blog post from the company’s CEO.

As Maggioncalda notes, this sort of response to help companies and universities brace themselves for a transition back home wouldn’t have been possible even 10 years ago. Interestingly, he also thinks that it might force a lasting change in the way we think about remote work and remote learning. 

“I think things will never be quite the same because we, as businesses, will have adjusted and experimented with work from home,” Maggioncalda said. “And I think universities won’t be the same because they are essentially being forced to experiment with, and very rapidly adopt some kind of online education.”

“My sense is it will accelerate certain things in a way that hadn’t happened before,” he added. 

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