A comparison between Coursera and edX
Over September and October of 2013, I have evaluated a number of
MOOCs. These vary hugely in their
design, in part due to the knowledge
being transferred. My previous experience of MOOCs is limited to having
completed the AP level Introduction
to Mathematical Thinking, which I can highly recommend as a
My interest in MOOCs was reawakened when I saw that TU Delft was
putting two of its courses online, on the edX platform. As a contributor
to the TU, let me start by saying that both courses are excellent and
can be approached on two different levels: what I would call "advanced
exposure" and "undergraduate". This is not true of every course in my
comparison; nor can or should it be.
For all of the courses
discussed here, all criticism is intended constructively and only in
the most general terms. Teething problems are assumed.
DelftX & HarvardX
to Water Treatment is a 3rd year course, but has no specific
prerequisites. The video lectures are sufficient to get a clear
understanding of the two component subjects of the course: drinking
water and wastewater. Watching the videos alone is not enough to pass
the course, but will give an excellent understanding of the subject for
non-engineers. The online text goes into far more detail, and is
essential for any engineer wanting to earn a certificate. Tutorials are
available for worked problems.
Technology is also a 3rd year course, but requires some
serious understanding of physics and mathematics. The course is
completely self-contained, with a single enthusiastic professor sharing
his knowledge in a step-by-step fashion. Well worth it for the
discussions of diodes alone.
Ancient Greek Hero is based on a course [...] taught at
Harvard University ever since
the late 1970s. As such, it is by far the longest developed course.
Each "hour" is a contact hour; in the first eight chapters the entire
Iliad is handled; the next three cover the Oddyssey. Hours 22 &
23 cover Plato: the Apology of Socrates and Phaedo
MITx & UTAustinX
and Electronics in just a couple of weeks has
brought me (a little) of the understanding that Electrical Engineers
must have. Professor Anant
Agarwal, who is also President of edX, is one of the most
entertaining lecturers. Weekly, two lectures, tutorials, homework and
interactive labs are posted. Each lecture is broken up into videos and
Recommended viewing: S1V9,
or the mouse being disassembled.
Intrigued by the title of this course, I decided to give it a go and...
of the 20th Century actually starts with the Enlightenment.
Preliminary reading was The Gathering
Storm, and the series
is a fascinating insight into how one
man single-handedly saved the world from both Voldemort
Colorado, Stanford, Pennsylvania
to Power Electronics
is above my head most of the time, and at about nose level the
remainder. I may follow it more seriously once I'm at the level of an
undergraduate with basic electronics knowledge again. The Coursera
platform is used to ask questions (typically once or twice per video)
which is an improvement on the "chop and change" method for this
is a course which only started in October. Living in a liberal
democracy which is becoming less liberal - the Netherlands has a
populist party which is not run on democratic lines, and this party has
something like 20% of the vote - this is an important subject to know
about. In Africa, there is a trend for increased desire for democracy
with education. Yet the baseline, those with no school at all, is 81%
for those rejecting one-man rule.
is perhaps the least academic of the MOOCs I am taking, but also one of
the most unique. Peer assessment is a major part of the course, which
is fun, and learning how cities were designed (by our ancestors! by
us!) makes for an enjoyable MOOC anybody can learn from.
Introduction to Mathematical Thinking is the one MOOC I've
completed, and that only partially (as a TA). Mathematical
thinking is not the same as doing mathematics – at least not as
mathematics is typically presented in our school system. Highly recommended.
November 1, 2013The following table summarizes, particularly
for the edX courses, what their developers could best learn from, and
to students learning one which they might be interested in next to make
their own comparison. There is not much more that can be said apart
from perhaps picking out a "best feature".
|Learn from||Recommend to||Best feature|
|Water||Solar||Cities||Videos only = AP level|
|Greek Hero||20th C||20th C||Repeatability|
|Electronics||(Coursera)||CompSci||Lab simulator, fun|
|20th C||Electronics||All||Breadth of scope|
|Democracy||N/A||All||Breadth of scope|
|Cities||N/A||All||Interaction with peers|
|Thinking||N/A||All||How to think!|
fully following 8 MOOCs at the same time is a challenge, my focus from
now on is to ensure I actually understand Electronics. Because
sometimes I at the end of my Latin!
20th C and Democracy I shall also complete, as well as the lighter
Cities. The Greek Hero I shall definitely revisit, as well as perhaps
Democracy for the further readings. Should there be a second iteration
of Solar Power, I shall definitely take the course properly.