Top universities deal to offer free online classes

A few months ago, free online courses from prestigious universities were a rarity. Now, they are the cause for announcements every few weeks, as a field suddenly studded with big-name colleges and competing software platforms evolves with astonishing speed.

In a major development Tuesday, a dozen highly ranked universities said they had signed on with Coursera, a new venture offering free classes online. They still must overcome some skepticism about the quality of online education and the prospects for having the courses cover the costs of producing them, but their enthusiasm is undimmed.

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