MOOC providers offer some free course access amid coronavirus outbreak

Dive Brief:

  • Two large MOOC providers are opening access to their course catalogs to help colleges that are moving instruction online in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

  • Coursera announced Thursday it is temporarily waiving fees for colleges to use Coursera for Campus, a library of online classes that instructors can use to supplement or replace their own courses. 

  • Meanwhile, edX launched its Remote Access Program, which lets students at participating institutions freely access courses offered on the company’s platform by their own and other colleges and universities.

Dive Insight:

Dozens of institutions —​ including Ivy League schools, state flagships and community colleges —​ have halted in-person instruction to help stem the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness the novel coronavirus causes. 

The World Health Organization declared Wednesday that the outbreak is a global pandemic. Confirmed COVID-19 cases have surpassed 100,000 worldwide, with more than 1,000 in the U.S., according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University. 

As colleges move classes online in response, edX and Coursera officials said institutions have asked them to expand access to their course catalogs to help instructors adapt. 

“The majority of institutions in the world do not have the digital infrastructure to suddenly flip the switch and have people learn online,” Leah Belsky, chief enterprise officer at Coursera, told Education Dive in an interview. 

The MOOC provider launched Coursera for Campus last fall. The platform provides curated collections of classes in fields such as data science and health that colleges can offer wholesale or use to supplement their own instruction. At the time, observers questioned the extent to which colleges would be willing to use the programs.

Colleges will be able to freely access the platform through the end of July. Coursera may give month-to-month extensions beyond that date depending on the impact of the coronavirus, it said in the announcement. 

Coursera’s idea to use the platform to help colleges respond to the coronavirus grew out of its recent move to offer all its courses for free to students and faculty at Duke Kunshan University — a research institution affiliated with Duke University and located near Shanghai. So far, some 200 Duke Kunshan students have enrolled in more than 500 courses, Belsky said. 

Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, said his company’s program will also help colleges teach remotely. “Together, our network of universities at edX are harnessing the existing community that we’ve already formed,” he added. 

Agarwal declined to share how many universities have joined the initiative so far, though he said the company is “seeing a lot of support for the program from our partners.” 

Ed tech companies told Education Dive last week that colleges were also reaching out to them to ask how to make their classes remote or quickly scale up their existing online classes. And federal agencies are relaxing their oversight of how schools use remote instruction as institutions cancel in-person class meetings and, in some cases, tell students they need to move out of their dorms in response to the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, the academic community is sharing resources and ideas for how to translate classes that use experiential learning into an online format. Platforms such as Merlot and Harvard University’s LabXchange can also help facilitate that instruction outside of the classroom, though some instructors may lack experience teaching classes remotely. 

“What I observe happening in this moment is just an intense amount of collaboration and knowledge-sharing across the community,” Belsky said. “There’s also a big opportunity for us to drive education (and) for campuses to educate each other in their region.

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