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4 Start-Ups Are Offering Free Online Courses

The market for free online courses is growing every week, with new companies emerging to offer open courses to anyone who wants them. Some of them have forgone the support of traditional institutions to try the for-profit waters instead. For anyone who might be struggling to keep track of the ever-growing field—the companies’ names can sound similar or stretch the bounds of the dictionary—below are four recently created start-ups challenging the traditional degree model with their free online courses:

  • Udacity: The free education platform that grew out of Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun’s huge artificial-intelligence course has its own plans to expand. When Udacity appeared a few weeks ago, two courses—one on building a search engine and the other on programming a robotic car—were in the works. They start on February 20 and will last seven weeks. And now, Udacity’s Web site lists eight new courses, all slated to begin later this year. The new offerings include classes on computer security and building Web applications. Students who finish a course will get a signed certificate.
  • Coursera: Udacity isn’t the only online-education platform with roots at Stanford. Coursera, an offshoot of the university’s experiments in open online learning last fall, will offer 14 classes beginning in February and March. Professors from Stanford, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and the University of California at Berkeley will teach the courses. Students won’t receive academic credit or have access to university resources other than an online forum where they can submit questions for the teaching staff.
  • GoodSemester: This new company that rolled out its online-learning platform on Monday stands out because it was founded by a student. Jason Rappaport began working on the project as a Lehigh University sophomore, and has expanded it since graduating. GoodSemester allows anyone—students, nonstudents, and professors alike—to create courses on any subject. Mr. Rappaport calls it “the quintessential how-to site” that features interactive lectures, as well as productivity tools that let students take notes and complete their assignments without needing other software. So far, 700 users have joined, and courses on subjects like Web development, accounting, and game design are being offered. Though GoodSemester will not offer its own credentials or certificates, Mr. Rappaport said the company has plans to work with universities that can do so if they choose.
  • Udemy: The free online-learning marketplace Udemy made a splash a few weeks ago with its announcement of the Faculty Project, which enlisted 13 professors from institutions like Northwestern University, Dartmouth College, and Duke University to teach a group of 13 courses on subjects like ancient Greek religion and business strategy. But Udemy offers more than just courses from high-profile professors, like music classes, programming tutorials, and poker lessons presented through a mix of video, audio, and other media. The Faculty Project courses and most of the others on the site are free, though a few charge rates from $5 to $250.

Know of other new free-course providers? Tell us about them in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by DeclanTM]

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