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Coronavirus: Online learning platform Coursera offers free courses to coronavirus-affected universities

As universities scramble to shift their curriculums online because of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, online learning platform Coursera is helping to accelerate the transition.

The Mountain View-based company is granting free access to its extensive course catalogue to higher learning institutions around the world.

“When [the coronavirus] broke out more broadly, we started getting requests, both from partner universities who work with Coursera, as well as other colleges and universities and governments saying, you know, we expected to evolve and offer online education over the next few years, but now we need to figure out how to do it over the next few months,” Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda told Yahoo Finance. “It's really just a way to pitch in to try and help universities to get more continuity in their services.”

Coursera is offering every university affected by the outbreak, free access to their catalogue through “Coursera for Campus,” a pre-packaged service the company launched last fall to help schools shift their curriculum online. 

A Towson University student carries his belongings out of the dorms as the school shut down days before the start of the scheduled spring break on March 11, 2020 in Towson, Maryland. (Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Maggioncalda said Coursera will support up to 5,000 students per school, a service that usually comes with a $2 million price tag for universities. He that schools will individually determine which courses students can take to earn credits.

Schools can choose from nearly 4,000 pre-existing courses across 400 specialities, developed by 170 universities around the world. The classes will begin immediately, with courses going through July 31st, though the company says it will consider extensions “depending on prevailing risk assessments.” Schools can also opt to work with Coursera’s tools to create their own courses. 

One potential issue with the trend is that a recent study suggests some students may also be resistant to online learning, despite being connected more than ever to the internet. A 2019 report by Educause Center for Analysis and Research found that 70% of students prefer in-person teaching.

Coronavirus across the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

School closures across the world

More than 100 colleges and universities in the U.S. have closed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, so far.  While some schools have opted to offer remote learning, despite keeping their campus open, others have brought forward — or in some cases, extended — spring break to keep students off campus and prevent potential community spread of COVID-19.


The initial idea to offer free classes, began with Duke University. When nearly 600 of its Chinese students and faculty in Kunshan were placed under quarantine last month, Maggioncalda said the school reached out for help in developing a full credit online curriculum. 

Since then, Coursera has received similar requests from universities all over the world, including the University of Naples, Tel Aviv University, and the University of Minnesota. 

The sudden move to online learning has exposed a big gap in funding set aside to help schools digitize. Globally, less than 3% of education money is invested in technology each year, according to education research firm Holon IQ

“I think what this event does is it basically says those plans that you thought you had five years to implement, you’re probably going to have to implement in the next six to twelve months,” Maggioncalda said. 

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Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita.

Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami

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