Smithsonian Makes Deal to Offer Online Courses

Monday, May 5, 2014  |  Updated 2:48 PM EDT
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Smithsonian Makes Deal to Offer Online Courses

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The Smithsonian Institute will offer at least 12 online courses in the fields of history, science, culture and the arts.

The Smithsonian Institution is venturing further into online education with a new deal to provide content for digital courses in history, science, culture and the arts, the museum complex announced Monday.

Smithsonian officials unveiled an agreement with the Chantilly, Virginia-based education group The Great Courses for a new series of multimedia lectures. The 10-year deal will include at least 12 courses, with the first four to be released this fall.

The courses will be primarily targeted at college-educated lifelong learners, but The Great Courses also serves college students, homeschooled students and a growing audience through Netflix and other entertainment sites. The company has recently created similar partnerships with National Geographic and the Culinary Institute of America.

Unlike MOOCs, the Massive Open Online Courses offered by universities, these courses will be offered for a fee of about $89.95 for a standard 24-lecture series.

"We're a different kind of learning experience," said Edward Leon of The Great Courses. "There's no pressure, there's no homework, there's no exams-- unlike a MOOC where you have to show up on Tuesdays at 11:00."

The first course, entitled "Experiencing America," involves a tour through American history based on iconic artifacts, such as Abraham Lincoln's hat, George Washington's sword and Dorothy's ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz." It will be taught by Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian's undersecretary for history, art and culture.

Other courses about the universe, the industrial revolution and Italy's art and culture will be taught by university professors.

Smithsonian Enterprises, the for-profit arm of the museum complex, has forged dozens of similar licensing deals with Showtime Networks, database provider Cengage Learning and others to broaden its reach and generate new revenue. The Great Courses will pay the Smithsonian a percentage of its sales, though financial terms were not disclosed.

"It's all Smithsonian content-- just another way to get it out there," said Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas.

The museum complex may also consider creating MOOCs in the future with university partners that would offer credit for the courses, she said.

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