Buffett-inspired online giving course draws 10,000 students from 70 countries

A Warren and Doris Buffett-inspired summer philanthropy course offers no college credit but draws 10,000 students worldwide. Here, Northeastern University Students4Giving program members hold a Learning by Giving Foundation check for Haley House, a Boston-based transitional employment program. (Northeastern Students4Giving / March 11, 2013)

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Rebecca Riccio tried to keep her expectations low.

Yes, the first massive open online course -- or MOOC --on philanthropy that she's teaching had the backing of billionaire Warren Buffett and his sister, Doris.

But it was a four-week, no-college-credit course offered during the height of summer, mid-July through mid-August. Absolutely the worst time to try to draw a crowd for hitting the proverbial books.

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"I would have been happy if we got 1,000 students," said Riccio, founding program director of Northeastern University's Students4Giving program, in an interview. "Instead, we got 10,000 students, from 70 countries and all over the U.S., including California."

Doris Buffett has pledged to give away more than $100,000 over time to the course through her Learning by Giving Foundation.

The free six-week course uses video lectures and is being taught using Google's Course Builder project hosting software.

Each class runs about 90 minutes. It will include talks with Warren and Doris Buffett and other well-known philanthropists.

During the four weeks, students will evaluate a number of nonprofit organizations and their goals and donate the first $10,000 to the most deserving groups.

Riccio said it was the perfect time to start such a course.

Doris Buffett, she said, "believes fervently that young people need to be taught how to give money away. It hasn't been modeled by our families as much as she thinks it should."

The timing is also right, Riccio said, because of the "big generational transfer of wealth on the horizon."

Doris Buffett, she added, is "hoping to develop giving habits and civic leadership that will last a lifetime."

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