Learning More about the Saylor Foundation

In the last six months the buzz has been about Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy, and edX, but what about the Saylor Foundation? If you want to learn more about the Saylor Foundation and the story behind the non-profit, check out “A Dot-Com Entrepreneur’s Wild Ambition: Drive Education Costs to Zero” published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Saylor acts more as an aggregator and less of a producer. Also, sidestepping the issues of accreditation concerning MOOC’s, students can take tests through StraighterLine, CLEP, or Excelsior College with whom Saylor has partnered. It’s also interesting that Saylor is collaborating with Google to use Google’s open Course Builder as a way to offer classes.

The landscape of online learning is quickly changing. Which models will succeed and who will be on the stage in six months? For now there are serious contenders like Coursera, but who knows if they’ll last. The video below explains more about Saylor and the foundation’s approach to education. Which approach is the best one to take?

A Message from Saylor


As always, I’m interested in hearing from students who have enrolled in new online learning opportunities. We can get the message from the company or non-profit, but the perspective is much different. Have you taken a course through Saylor, and if so, what was your experience?

Tim Lepczyk

Writer, Technologist, and Librarian.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Paul Morris

    I’ve completed a few courses at Saylor and have to say that I’m most favourably impressed. Saylor takes quite a traditional approach to study with quite an emphasis on readings – something notable by its almost complete absence on the higher profile MOOC providers. They have done a tremendous job in finding appropriate resources and putting them together into coherent courses.

    Something that only Saylor offers (so far as I know) is the ability to work through a well-structured programme of study paralleling the US four year college degree course – complete with General Education requirements.

    Study at Saylor is not for the faint-hearted; the work is academically rigorous and students are entirely self-paced, but committed students can learn a great deal.

  2. Margreet de Brie

    I’ve slugged through a course on medieval European history and I am definitely not favourably impressed. I know Paul from the Saylor website, who seems to be one of the few people posting regularly on the forum.

    I tried very, very hard to find redeeming qualities in this particular course, but I couldn’t find many. There certainly is no shortage of open source or public domain resources on medieval history, and some of them are essential reading for a medievist. I found none of these sources. Instead I found rather questionable short ‘readings’ containing numerous errors, omission of key concepts, and no references to sources. Primary sources are not only texts, but also art, architecture, artefacts and landscape. These sources that are very important for the medieval period sorely lacking.

    The level (errors aside) hardly rose to what is taught in Dutch 8th grade primary school. Needless to say, you won’t find these errors in an 8th grade Dutch or Belgian history book.

    My pointing out a major (and rather embarassing) error on the forum was apperantly not welcomed. I refrained from making more comments on what I found, let alone provide suggestions for improvement. It doesn’t seem to be appreciated.

    I won’t recommend Saylor to my friends.

  3. Paul Morris

    I think that Margreet may be a little harsh in her assessment of Saylor. I guess that her comments relate to HIST201; unfortunately, I have neither taken the course nor have any expert knowledge of the subject so cannot respond directly. I’m not sure that it is fair to say her posting on the Saylor forum highlighting an error was “not welcomed”. It might be more accurate to say it was ignored–as are most postings whether critical or supportive.

    I would agree that some resources can be poor–I have highlighted problems to Saylor on a number of occasions–and, as is inevitable given the curated nature of the site, some links do disappear from time to time. I would also agree that monitoring of and responding to forum posts is uneven. Given the low volume of posting that really is something the administrators and educationalists should be able to address. On the other hand, I have found Saylor extremely responsive when contacted by email unlike most other platforms.

    Regardless, to condemn a site offering over three hundred courses on the basis of a poor experience on one course seems excessive. On that basis few real-world universities would last long! Of the thirty or so courses I have completed or am currently studying, I would say that only one has raised serious quality concerns for me (and that course has recently been totally revised addressing all the issues I raised). I should also say that my assessment of the level of the material I have studied is in line with my expectation for undergraduate studies.

    1. mich

      Magreet does have a legitimate beef about her one course. I reviewed several Art history courses before signing up, and felt they were lacking in a big way on the visual content ; it is after all about art and getting mostly a theoritical analysis on the subject is not enough. Maybe Saylor was unable to get the necessary permissions to include the images in their courses.

      However, Saylor does provide a much better selection of Art history courses than Coursera. And their strength also, as compared to Coursera, is offering almost comparable certificate programs (30 university credit version) in several disciplines, such as psychology and literature, for example — which I also reviewed.

  4. Kiven Ford

    I took one course with saylor and I don’t think I was very delighted with the experience. Using the traditional way of learning as in reading a huge amount of text is time consuming. As I believe anyone who is interested in taking a free online course do consider time as an important factor. In the other hand, I took few courses with coursera and I have to say it was beyond my expectations! The quality and the amount of time & effort taken to build some courses are magnificent. And the professors are professionals from big universities. I’d say I’d stick to Coursera. But saylor does definitely offer more courses, and flexiblity in time rather that having a dead line for each course such in Coursera.

    1. Hadiya

      Is coursera free

  5. michelcarroll

    I’m currently taking courses with both Coursera and Saylor. I find they both have advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered in context before starting any course/program with them.

    To resume my thoughts on both:

    Coursera Pros:
    – deadlines help to discipline and keep a healthy pace
    – course framework is very well structured, with quizzes, exercises to submit, quick feedback from students/instructors
    – large amount of technical content

    Coursera Cons:
    – when life happens, deadlines are sometimes a drag. This caused me to drop several courses
    – when I’m interested in a particular course, to see that it’s only offered in a few months is annoying

    Saylor Pros:
    – no deadline means you have complete flexibility over your own schedule
    – for more traditional and non-technical courses/content, readings are a great way to learn (for me anyways)

    Saylor Cons:
    – almost no real references in their material, which sometimes hurts the credibility of the content
    – giving you too much flexibility can make it easy for you to procrastinate

  6. Raymond

    Saylor has gone totally downhill. Trying to navigate their site is now very difficult. There seems to be a complete disregard for any students who gained their certificates before the changes. Who is to say what you do not won’t also be disregarded in the future. Epic Fail if you want my opinion. I’d say don’t do it, do Coursera or EdX instead. I think Saylor will soon disappear as more and more people walk away.

  7. Raymond

    Margreet is totally right about her comments pointing out an omission or error being unwanted, I totally believe her. Try and post anything at all critical or honestly pointing out an error or omission in their blog, you’ll find your post is forever in moderation, but ‘Sean’ answers everyone else who praises them. The site is a joke that they cannot even accept a comment… Saylor is just not worth the time or bother.

  8. Michael Murray

    I have been working on the western political thought exam from Saylor for almost three weeks, and if I were asked to give the course a one through five star rating, I would give it a zero. The material provided is unbelievably dense, and there is such a wide and diverse array of sources it is extraordinarily challenging to pick out useful information that is actually applicable to the exam. I have 45 pages of notes on the subject, and unfortunately I have now realized that probably less than ten percent of what I have covered will actually be addressed on the final exam. I could not recommend this course any less to anyone considering it; I hardly feel like I’ve made progress in the near month I’ve been working on it. In addition I’ve also been pushing through the corporate communication course, and that course is nearly as bad. Again, the ridiculous spread of sources cited makes it extremely tough to pick out useful information, and half of the resources available are hardly even related to the subject of the course and tend to be full of factual errors upon review. Overall, based on just the two courses I have taken, the poor structure and lack of accuracy presented in Saylor’s syllabus has left an extremely poor impression on me, and I would not only not recommend, but would actually encourage anyone to avoid these courses, and Saylor in general.

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