Georgia Tech joins nation's top colleges for free online courses

Georgia Tech joined with a dozen major research institutions Tuesday in a partnership that gives students from all over the world free access to online college courses.

The courses will be offered through Coursera, a group founded in 2011 by professors from Stanford University. Working with its original partners the University of Michigan, Princeton University, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania, Coursera said it already has seen more than 680,000 students from 190 countries choose from among its 43 courses.

Those courses are free. In some cases students will receive a certificate showing how well they performed in the class.

Richard DeMillo, director of Georgia Tech's Center for 21st Century Universities, said that if participants in the courses Tech offers want college credit for them, they will have to pay.

Georgia Tech will provide four courses for free: energy 101, computational photography, computational investing and control of mobile robots.

"Some may ask why we're giving courses away, but this is not about giving courses away," DeMillo said. "It's about enabling different learning for different students."

With the number of courses Coursera offers expected to more than double by fall, millions of students may get online access to classes offered by top colleges at no charge. Tech President G.P. "Bud" Peterson said the exposure, which comes in addition to other online learning programs the institution offers, "will enable even more students throughout the world to have access to Georgia Tech's expertise, and help to meet the needs for lifelong learning."

Coursera is part of the growing market of "massive open online courses" also known as MOOCs. Thousands of students at various ages, locations and income levels can gain knowledge and acquire skills without paying tuition or earning a degree.

The idea is part of a series of higher-education experiments as colleges test what services they can provide through advanced technology and improved efficiency. It comes as many question the cost of higher education and students are demanding more control over what they study and how they learn.

Georgia Tech is one of 12 colleges from around the world joining the company. Other new members include Duke University, California Institute of Technology and the University of Toronto.

Other colleges, such as MIT and Harvard University, have similar operations.

DeMillo didn't know how many students would sign up, but predicted it will be in the thousands.

"It would take us 10 years to reach thousands of students with Georgia Tech courses on campus," he said.

The courses differ from the video lectures already accessed for free online. Students will participate in discussions, take quizzes and learn through forums with other students. Students can learn at their own pace and take as much — or as little — time as needed to master the content, according to Coursera.

Students will be able to ask questions about the material. Many will be answered through FAQs online, DeMillo said. Teaching assistants and others with more experience around the material will answer the rest.

Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng described the company as the "future of higher education," adding that "professors can reach more students in one course than they could have hoped to in a lifetime."

Learn for free

Georgia Tech has joined Coursera (, one of several companies that allows students from all over the world to take online courses from premiere colleges for free. Here are the members of Coursera, as announced Tuesday:

California Institute of Technology

Duke University

Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (Switzerland)

Georgia Tech

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Princeton University*

Rice University

Stanford University*

University of California, San Francisco

University of Edinburgh (Scotland)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Michigan*

University of Pennsylvania*

University of Toronto (Canada)

University of Virginia

University of Washington

Source: Coursera

NOTE: * Denotes colleges that participated prior to Tuesday's announcement