Harvard University to offer free online architecture course

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Harvard University Graduate School of Design's Gund Hall, designed by Australian architect John Andrews, 1972.

Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s Gund Hall, designed by Australian architect John Andrews, 1972. Image: Peter Vanderwarker

Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design will soon offer a free online architecture course titled The Architectural Imagination.

The course is a 10-week program designed to give students an introductory level of understanding about architecture, including how to read and analyse architecture and learn drawing and modelling techniques.

The course will be divided into three parts and will be taught by K. Michael Hays and Erika Naginski (professors of architectural history) and Antoine Picon (professor of the history of architecture and technology).

The first will introduce students to perspective drawing and architectural typologies through video presentations and hands-on exercises. It will also introduce students to some of the challenges involved in writing architectural history.

The second part addresses technology and materials of construction and the final part will explore architecture’s relationship to social and historical contexts. Students can also access an official and verified certificate on completion for a $99 fee. However, at present many universities don’t accept credit from online courses.

The course will be offered on the EdX platform, a massive open online course (MOOCs) provider founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 

The course is one of seven current or upcoming free architecture courses offered by institutions such as Delft University of Technology, The University of Tokyo and ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. These universities are often ranked as top places to study architecture according to QS University rankings. To enrol in the course, click here.

MOOCs have risen rapidly in popularity in the last decade, as they offer anyone with an internet connection access to free courses taught by some of the world’s most distinguished academics. Daphne Koller, a founder of MOOCs provider Coursera told The Guardian, “We had a million users faster than Facebook, faster than Instagram. This is a wholesale change in the educational ecosystem.”

According to the latest report from MOOCs aggregator Class Central, an estimated 58 million students world-wide are enrolled in 6,850 courses offered by more than 700 universities.

Experts are divided over the benefits of MOOCs versus face-to-face classroom education. A survey conducted by Harvard Business Review found “among learners who completed courses […] 72 per cent of survey respondents reported career benefits and 61 per cent reported educational benefits.”  


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