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Coursera.org: Ivy league for free

Wednesday - 10/24/2012, 6:10am  ET

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Coursera offers free online classes from 33 universities and colleges. Here are just a few. (Courtesy of Coursera.org)

Lacey Mason, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Continuing your education can be pricey, even at schools with the most lax requirements. But what if you could take classes like Introduction to Mathematical Thinking or An Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Perspectives from Public Health - for free?

And if that's not intriguing enough, what if you could take them from home? And from universities like Stanford or Johns Hopkins?

Well, it's not a "What if?" While you won't walk off with a college degree, Coursera.org offers classes that really are free and taught online by professors from Stanford, Duke, Princeton, Berklee College of Music, the University of Maryland and 28 other schools.

Coursera describes itself as a "social entrepreneurship company" with a goal of providing anyone and everyone with a world-class education - the type of education previously available only to a select few.

While some controversy surrounds how effective online classes can be, Coursera says 45 independent studies show online learning is at least as effective as face- to-face teaching. One study in particular, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education over a period of 12 years, showed students in online classes "performed modestly better."

Coursera also preaches the importance of immediate feedback and giving opportunities to redo homework so a subject can be mastered. Read more about Coursera's "pedagogy" here.

The best part about Coursera - well, other than that it's free - is the ability to take whatever class you want. This isn't for a degree, so you can take the fun classes. Or if you want to challenge yourself, you don't have to worry about bringing down your GPA if it doesn't work out.

Currently, there are 199 courses available. One that may pique the interest of radio lovers is Emory University's Introduction to Digital Sound Design, taught by Steve Everett. The four-week class has a full syllabus and starts Jan. 28.

A fun one I plan to take is The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color. This five-week course starts in February and covers the history of changes in film technology and their effects on Hollywood storytelling. Check it out here.

One class I have no plans to take from Stanford University is Probabilistic Graphical Models. (Yeah - it's a thing.) That 11-week course started in September and is taught by Dr. Daphne Koller. Check out her bio.

Another class I wouldn't be caught dead in - or at least sleeping through in a college classroom - is Coding the Matrix: Linear Algebra through Computer Science Applications. This data analysis class comes to you online courtesy of Brown University.

Part of me can't believe that there's anyone who knows what these course names mean, let alone that there are people who would pay for them. But there are, and they do. And you can do it for free.

You can check out other news coverage on Coursera here. I could say more - but you must excuse me. I've got to get to my Calculus: Single Variable class at Penn.

OK, not really. But if I wanted to, I could.

Learn more about the Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color class below:

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)