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Around Town: A Virtual Visit to Caltech

July 25, 2012|By Anita S. Brenner

You’d think that Caltech would be in the forefront of online learning, but the Beavers are late to this rodeo. This week, Caltech finally announced that it will provide free online classes thought Coursera ("The World's Best Courses. Online, for Free.")

Coursera (www.coursera.org) was created last fall by two Stanford computer-science professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng. Coursera is a for-profit start-up. It began with free classes from Stanford, Penn, Princeton, and the University of Michigan.

The revenue stream initially was uncertain. The New York Times reported that Coursera and participating schools each meet their own expenses and the revenues are divided between Coursera and the schools.

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But if the courses are free, what’s the source of revenue? Google clicks? Embedded ads? Can a startup really make money with high usage stats?

Apparently so. Last month, Market Watch reported that Coursera had received $16 million in venture capital from private investors.

Private. Investors. No. Government. Funds.

And then, a few weeks ago, Coursera added 12 more schools, including our very own local treasure, Caltech.

More than 111 courses are offered on Coursera. Each course has a set start date and duration. There is no tuition. Even Caltech offers no credit.

Unfortunately, the classes look way too hard for me.

On Aug 20, Professor Ng from Stanford will begin a 10-week course called Machine Learning. "Learn about the most effective machine learning techniques, and gain practice implementing them and getting them to work for yourself."

Unfortunately, Professor Ng’s class does not teach you how to program the remote.

On Sept. 17, Princeton professor Jeremy Adelman will teach a 12-week course on "The History of the World Since 1300."

Even Lanterman House doesn’t go back that far.

There must be something else to do at Caltech…

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at anitasusan.brenner@yahoo.com and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.

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