Coursera, a major player in the world of providing "massively open online courses" in higher education, is making its first move into the K-12 landscape through an effort to provide free training and professional development to teachers in the United States and other countries.
The move appears to represent one of the clearest indications of the role that "MOOCs," which to date have been primarily a higher education phenomenon, could play in the world of elementary and secondary education, a question that technology advocates and school officials have been debating for some time.
In college and university settings, MOOCs have allowed institutions to post courses online, allowing for the academic content provided by faculty to be shared with new audiences on a huge scale.
The forums have also met resistance in some quarters from those who say they create the potential for sharing weak content, and in some cases from faculty and others who aren't comfortable with their institutions giving others free access to their courses, without any constraints.
Some have speculated that MOOCs' greatest potential value in K-12 settings might come through the sharing of courses and curricula for students, but Coursera's announcement this week heads in a different direction, focusing on building the skills of classroom educators.
In addition to marking Coursera's first step into early childhood and K-12 education, the company said the new arrangement is the first time it has partnered with non-degree-bearing institutions in making their resources available online.
Seven institutions and organizations have agreed to partner with the Mountain View, Calif.-based company in posting professional-development and teacher-training resources online, Coursera officials said. They are the University of Washington's college of education; the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education; the Johns Hopkins University school of education; Match Education's Sposato Graduate School of Education; Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education and Human Development; the Relay Graduate School of Education; and the University of California, Irvine.
Initial courses will cover areas such as content development, curriculum associated with the Common Core State Standards, character education, putting in place "flipped classrooms," and using blended learning, or the combination of online and in-person instruction.
The promise to provide training for teachers on making wise use of technology in classrooms would, at least in theory, meet a major need in the K-12 community. Many school officials and technology advocates have bemoaned educators' inability to make intelligent use of tech tools in classrooms. (Though others have also said that some of the blame is with companies churning out tech products of little practical value in school settings.)
Coursera currently offers 220 courses from 33 institutions, and it has about 2.8 million registered users, according to estimates company officials provided earlier this year.
Like the university courses Coursera already offers online, the new arrangement with schools of education will offer video lectures, peer forums, supplementary materials, and other interactive components to support meaningful educational experiences. In addition, the courses will give K-12 districts and schools the option of weaving new content into existing professional development programs, through blended learning.
"We want to help K-12 students by helping their teachers," Coursera Co-Founder Andrew Ng said in a statement. "Many schools just don't have the resources to provide teachers and parents the training and support they need. By providing free online courses on how to teach, we hope to improve this."