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Distance LearningIn March, an amazing 120,000 people signed up for MIT's free online course, 6.002x: Circuits and Electronics. The same one that MIT undergrads take, it was a component of MIT’s open education program, MITx. It was also part of a growing trend where universities are offering hardcore computer science and technology classes — online and often for free. Online education options are expanding quickly. More than 6.1 million students took at least one online course in 2010, an increase of 560,000 students from 2009. And now, Computerworld notes, some of the pioneers of online CS courses are turning their talents into businesses. For example, Udacity, an online school with 140,000 people enrolled in its latest round of classes, was co-founded by Sebastian Thrun, former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He was one of the professors who taught Stanford's free online course on AI last fall. Some 58,000 people signed up for it. Udacity plans to offer a CS curriculum online sometime this year featuring course work similar to what's needed to earn a university degree, but without the humanities and other electives. Udacity classes are free, but the company may consider charging money for certificates, an idea that MIT is also thinking about. Another education startup, Coursera, was founded by another group of Stanford CS professors and is being used by several universities including Michigan, Stanford, Berkeley and Princeton. The company says it plans to launch 30 courses by this summer.