Coursera: opening doors

As some of my regular readers will know, I have recently started a course on “Sustainability” which is one of the many free quality higher education courses available through “Coursera“.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of this course. I have learnt a lot about the problems relating to the world’s growing population and the effects of a growing human population on climate. I have examined seen some really good lectures and some excellent videos and most importantly, have joined in a discussion every week with fellow students of all ages from all walks of life throughout the world.

I have been fortunate in my life because I went to a University and then was able to do an M.A. by distance study from the remarkable Open University.

Many people though  have not had access to some of the best thinkers and lecturers in the world from some of the best institutions of higher education. They were precluded because of poverty or war or many other situations that barred them from the chance to study at a higher level and also to contribute their ideas.

Coursera has been a godsend to so many of these people. Today I read a really moving personal testimony by a Coursera student, Laura Cushing. It was called “Coursera  The Key to Higher Education“. Laura tells us of how she was misdiagnosed as being emotionally disturbed and that this stopped her from following a higher education. She was eventually diagnosed as having mild Asperger’s Syndrome and she also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by her problems of being treated by her family and others as “disturbed”.

Her discovery of Coursera was purely by chance and she has gone on to do a brilliant online Coursera course in Sociology from Princeton University. She explains how she was able to enjoy the online lectures and participate in the discussions, which she says would have been difficult for her in a conventional University setting.

She found herself immersed in the excitement and joy of learning. Her last line says it all:

“I found the key to higher education after a lifetime of closed doors”.

As one of her many thousands of fellow students I am delighted that organisations such as Coursera are giving people like Laura the chance to prove what they can do and the chance to be a part of the intellectual discussion that they were excluded from in the past. This shows the power of the new free online higher education movement people like Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller (the founders and joint CEO’s of Coursera) had the vision to launch.

There are many thousands of people who will not only benefit themselves by these opportunities, but will ultimately add to our store of knowledge and contribute to providing the answers to many of the pressing problems that our world is faced with.

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