Coursera Creates ‘Specialization’ Programs for High-Demand Subjects

column | MOOCs

Coursera Creates ‘Specialization’ Programs for High-Demand Subjects

Having trouble choosing your MOOCs? Coursera can do that for you.

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Jan 21, 2014

Coursera Creates ‘Specialization’ Programs for High-Demand Subjects

Say you’re prepping for a job programming apps for Android OS, and you’re turning to MOOCs for help. How do you figure out the right sequence of courses from among the hundreds (if not thousands) choices available?

Today, Coursera is offering students a “Specializations” certificate program, in which its partner universities offer a series of pre-chosen courses directly related to the field of specialization. Currently, Coursera offers two Specializations designed to help students be job-ready:

Enrollment in the Specializations program will run between $200 to $500, depending on the subject and respective combination of certified MOOCs, which vary in cost. (Students will pay the price of the Signature Track for each of the courses plus an additional fee of around $30 for the capstone project that most of the Specialization certificates will require.) After signing up, students take a collection of courses that add up to at least 20 weeks worth of work. For example, a student who pursues the data science specialization may choose four 5-week MOOCs.

“It’s difficult for students to assemble courses of study for a particular topic,” says Coursera co-founder, Andrew Ng. “We hope that this will steer students in a good direction.”

After completing these courses, the student will do a capstone project that can take different forms, depending on the respective specialization. A student enrolled in the “Introduction to Computing” track may end creating a few programs in the coding languages learned from MOOCs.

Ng explains that the capstone project is geared towards supporting professionals or pre-professionals who are looking for more substance to bring to a hiring interview.

“Pedagogically, we felt that it would be useful for them to be able to do a capstone project. We’re seeing a trend with portfolio-based hiring,” Ng explains. “We hope that by helping students create meaningful classroom projects, this will help find them better opportunities.”

Upon completion, the student will receive a digital “Specialization Certificate,” which Ng believes will be “a higher-level certificate that employees can interpret.”

Why Specializations?

For Ng, the decision to roll out this specialization program was a matter of supply and demand.

Coursera tracks the most popular subjects based on student enrollment numbers and completion data (i.e. which courses have the highest completion rate). It also records keeps track of “top search areas” like computer science and business and shares that information with universities, some of which began to consider how they could match these student interests with pre-designated MOOC tracks.

Soon after, several universities approached Coursera about offering core sequences of online classes--a concept the company was already considering. “One thing that surprised me was the strength the response that we got from our university partners. Quite a few of university partners had already considered doing this,” Ng says.

Several universities jumped onboard and agreed to develop Specializations in their respective areas of strength, desiring to stretch their instructional reach beyond a college campus.

“The knowledge and skills needed to master mobile cloud computing applications are far more complex than any one instructor could ever hope to cover in a single course,” reported Doug Schmidt, professor of computer science and of computer engineering at Vanderbilt, and Adam Porter, professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, in Coursera’s press release. “The MOOCs we are teaching this spring build upon and codify decades of research and development we’ve conducted together and separately, and bring a level of collaboration to our teaching that simply was not possible before.”

What’s available?

Coursera plans to add additional Specialization tracks from the following schools over the next few months:

  • Berklee College of Music: Modern Musician
  • Commonwealth Education Trust: Foundations in Teaching and Learning
  • University of California, Irvine: Virtual Instruction
  • University of Geneva and Leiden University: Challenges in Global Affairs
  • Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai: Systems Biology
  • John Hopkins University: Data Science
  • University of Maryland: Introduction to Cybersecurity
  • Rice University: Fundamentals of Computing

Looking for information, or interested in enrolling? Click here to learn more about Coursera’s Specializations program.

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