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What if I told you that top professors from top universities are teaching classes online for free?  For me, who is still paying off a portion of student loans, the answer is another question, “Why didn’t we have this sooner?”

Within the last couple years, there has been a sudden acceleration in the free online learning movement.  For many years, MIT has open-sourced many of their courses materials online through OpenCourseWare (OCW).  However, two Stanford University professors, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, rose free online learning to the next level when they decided to format their courses specifically for the online environment.  Ng and Koller initially offered their courses through a Stanford University portal, but they have recently founded their own company, Coursera.  Coursera opened its doors to other top-notched universities, such as Princeton and Harvard, and other fields, such as Mathematics and Medicine.  As a former student of Ng’s Machine Learning class, I can vouch for the quality of the learning experience.

As more courses are increasingly available from the best professors in their respective fields, we’ll start to question the rising costs of traditional universities.  According to CNNMoney, in 2011, the average cost of a public university was $21,447 and the average cost of a private one was $42,224.  Students that are taking out loans to help pay for the majority of the costs will be graduating with close to six figures or more in debt.  While student loans often have better rates than typical bank loans, you are stuck with student loans for the rest of your life until it is fully paid off.  Say, for example, after business school, you decided to borrow money from a bank and start a business.  If your business fails and you are forced to declare chapter 7 bankruptcy, you will be pardoned from your outstanding bank loan and possibly from your credit card debts, but absolutely not from the education loan you borrowed for business school.  

By open sourcing top quality courses and continuing to improve the online learning experience, Coursera and other online learning sites will bring competition to colleges and universities and force them to justify their value.  This will be a big win for students and their wallets.

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Comment by Douglas Ching on September 4, 2012 at 8:30am

It is great there are free courses online.  Free and online education is also great for people who are unable to attend traditional classes but want to continue their learning.

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