“Coursera has added 17 new university partners” the e-mail in my inbox announced. With the introduction of these new universities, Coursera now offers a total of 195 courses. The courses span categories like Humanities, Music, Food & Nutrition, Computer Science and many more. The courses are free and completely online. They are conducted by some of the brilliant professors out there and attended by thousands of people around the globe. I signed up for the Fantasy and Science Fiction course this summer only to realize that it would coincide with our vacation in Europe. I watched the first course video on an iPad as we waited at the airport for our flight. I didn’t complete the rest of the course but just the thought that I was casually sitting there at the airport, taking a course that was completely outside of my core discipline gave me goosebumps!
When I look at the list of all the courses, I get even more excited. I really do. If I browse just the courses that are offered this Fall, there are at least 2-3 that I would love to try out. But my excitement is not owing to the fact that there are so many courses available. Nor does it diminish by the fact that my schedule is not going to allow me to take any of those courses this Fall. None of the courses are actually directly helpful for my day-time job. Not even my favorite Natural Language Processing course, whose videos I have downloaded and carefully saved on my laptop as if they are maps to an unknown treasure. I am thrilled because these courses offer me an opportunity to learn for the simple joy of learning. They offer a variety across disciplines that’s very nourishing. Today you can learn how to listen to world music if you want. Tomorrow you can learn about macroeconomics if you want.
My mind that is accustomed to taking courses to get a degree and to get a job cannot fathom this anymore. This is worse than a kid staring at a huge colorful display of candies. The kid at least knows at the back of her mind that she is not going to get all those candies. Here, when staring at the list of these courses, there are no such restrictions to learning. First Khan Academy happened and now Coursera is happening — all this excitement is killing me!