Coursera offers free online courses to universities worldwide during coronavirus pandemic

March 12, 2020, 6:46 PM UTC

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Coursera, which offers a broad array of online courses, will make its content free to universities in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Any university worldwide is eligible, according to Coursera Chief Enterprise Officer Leah Belsky, but some priority may be given to those most impacted by coronavirus.

Universities can sign up through an online portal and will have free access through July 31, 2020. After that date, Coursera says extensions of the free service will be available depending on risk assessments. Students who enroll in individual classes before July 31 will have access to that content through September of this year.

Universities are among the institutions most threatened by coronavirus. Efforts to fight the virus, which is transmitted through person to person contact, have centered on cancelling or discouraging large gatherings where transmission could be accelerated.

In the past few days, many universities have concluded that their own classes are risk factors. Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Rice, and Harvard are just a few of the growing list of schools cancelling in-person classes. Many have said they’ll move courses online.

On March 10, Following the announcement of Harvard’s decision, Harvard Professor Jason Furman tweeted that he didn’t think “anyone in the US will be sitting in a university classroom two weeks from now.”

Belsky says that top-tier U.S. universities are already well prepared to transition to online learning, but that many others, particularly internationally, don’t have the needed infrastructure in place. Belsky says Coursera has already fielded inquiries about online learning options from government education authorities in Pakistan, Kurdistan, and Peru.

Coursera hosts content developed by partners including Columbia and Johns Hopkins. According to Belsky, Coursera offers “almost any course that you would find taught in a graduate or undergraduate curriculum,” and says professors should find it relatively easy to transition from their own curriculum to a Coursera package in the middle of the semester.

Online learning has grown due to long-run factors including cost and convenience, but Belsky says higher education has generally been “slow to adopt” tools like Coursera’s. She sees coronavirus as a transformative moment.

“The higher education community will take a big leap forward because of the forced experimentation that’s happening during this crisis,” she says.

Coursera is a privately-held startup, and was valued at more than $1 billion in a fundraising round in April 2019.

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