First Bitcoin Massive Open Online Course at Coursera is from Princeton University

Websites offering Massive Open Online Courses, better known as MOOCs, have come a long way since bursting onto the scene in 2012. Like the Bitcoin space, a lot of Venture Capital money has been spent across a range of different sites, and supporting services have been popping up around the edges too.

Some sites allow anyone to start their own course, while others only allow the best teachers from the very best universities to instruct. The three largest websites have become very popular and are often referred to as the “ivy league” of MOOCs; Coursera, Udacity, and edX.  

Udacity is the most expensive and vocation-oriented of the three, focusing on certifying students for their jobs. EdX is a non-profit, open source initiative between Harvard and MIT, clearly the most technical in focus. However, the largest by far is Coursera, which offers the most classes and the widest array of subjects. Despite offering 1,291 different courses to its 14.8 million students, all of the classes are taught by world-class professors from top universities, and most of them for free.

This week Coursera announced that they are now offering a free course from Princeton University, titled Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies. Open to everyone, the course will run from Sept 4 to Oct 22. According the news and rating site, Class Central, the course is rated in the Top Ten Most Popular MOOCs starting in September 2015.

The course's instructor is Assistant Professor Arvind Narayanan of Princeton University, who leads the Princeton Web Transparency and Accountability project, a study of how “companies are collecting and using our personal information.” He also studies the security and stability of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies for Princeton. In 2008, he jointly received the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Award.

According to Narayanan, this seven-week course focuses on the computer science behind Bitcoin, “to help cut through the hype and get to the core of what makes Bitcoin unique.”

- Coursera

Joining Professor Narayanan are three lecturers; Joseph Bonneau and Edward Felten from Princeton University, and Andrew Miller from the University of Maryland. Together they teach the coursework through a series of videos, reading assignments, quizzes, and live chats.

The format of the class will be primarily lecture videos, broken up into 5-7 segments, each 10-15 minutes in length. Each segment contains 1 or 2 integrated quiz questions. There will also be standalone homework assignments that are not part of video lectures. Students are expected to spend three to six hours a week studying.

Important questions about Bitcoin will be addressed throughout, such as: “How does Bitcoin work? What makes Bitcoin different? How secure are your Bitcoins? How anonymous are Bitcoin users? What determines the price of Bitcoins? Can cryptocurrencies be regulated? What might the future hold?” All practical questions designed to give students a broad base of information.

The only prerequisite for taking this course is an introductory computer science class such as their CS 101. Moreover, since the course is aimed at computer science students, developers,  and entrepreneurs, some background knowledge is strongly recommended including basic programming, data structures, and algorithms.

The lectures will also form the basis of a new textbook published by Princeton University Press. “The textbook closely follows the structure of the lectures, but the textual format has allowed us to refine and polish the explanations, making them much clearer in many places, in my opinion,” explained Narayanan. Draft chapters are currently available for free online.

Another Coursera course, this time from Stanford University, is already in the works for later this Fall. According to professor Dan Boneh, head of the Cryptography Department at Stanford,  'Crypto Currencies, the Blockchain, and Smart Contracts' will be a new course this coming semester.

- Professor Dan Boneh

The launch date for this course hasn't been set. However, in a classroom chat Boneh said that this new course, coming in the Fall of 2015, “would cover Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, and overall, all kind of blockchain technologies and academic research that we´ve been doing lately.”

Although few teachers have credentials as impressive as these two instructors, many other MOOC providers have beaten Narayanan and Boneh to the cryptocurrency space. The very first MOOC about Bitcoin was by Charles Hoskinson on Udemy, one of the most popular sites today that allows anyone to start up a course of their own. Udemy currently shows 18 different Bitcoin courses available, the most courses about bitcoin of any MOOC platform.

Some other notable standout courses include classes by the Digital Currency Council, including one on Bitcoin for Lawyers and the other on Bitcoin for Accountants. Draper University gives an excelling beginners course called the Bitcoin Basics, and there are even a few bitcoin trading courses that resemble Forex trading instruction.

Khan Academy offers one of the most famous MOOCs on the subject of Bitcoin, by MIT-trained Ph.D. Zulfikar Ramzan, simply titled “Bitcoin.” It is aimed at programmers and mathematicians and is very popular with coders that want to work on bitcoin itself or a supporting technology.

Alison, a platform aimed at the developing world, is offering the course “Virtual Currencies: A Case Study of Bitcoin.” One of the more Spartan courses, it covers the basics of use and security.

LinkedIn's Lynda.com has one too, titled “Up and Running with Bitcoin.”  Although aimed at beginners, this MOOC appears to cover all the basics, security, mining, economics and the future.

The University of Nicosia in Cyprus had the distinct honor of offering the first accredited online MOOC featuring Bitcoin and Digital Currencies. In the spring of 2014 it was started and has only grown in popularity since. It's a free course, taught in English, and this semester they have 615 students signed up from 76 countries so far. They even issue the certificate through the Bitcoin blockchain itself, another first of it's kind.

Whatever your situation is, there is a way to learn a lot more about bitcoin, on your schedule, even for free, from instructors at any level of expertise.