As Free, Online College Classes Grow, Will Employers Accept Them?

    Because IT training so often takes place online, perhaps the industry better accepts that mode of learning. I don’t know. College-level education, though, has been pegged as one of the most likely areas of disruption by the Internet, given the massive expense of tuition at traditional schools.

    Enter the free, online courses.

    Another 17 prominent universities have joined Coursera, created by two Stanford University professors in 2011. MIT and Harvard have their own version, called edX.

    For its part, Stanford offers online courses such as machine learning, human-computer interaction, algorithm design and analysis, as well as technology entrepreneurship.

    Coursera, though, now has 33 partners, the new ones including Columbia University, Emory University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine, according to The Wall Street Journal. Coursera offers about 200 courses to more than 1.3 million registered users, though only about 30 percent actually complete the classes.

    The story says universities are still trying to figure out how to turn their free offerings into a steady revenue stream — and students, no doubt, are trying to figure out how they fit into their career progression. Duke University’s Randy Riddle writes that they promote good PR for the university and can be used as “teaser” courses to woo students to campus — as if getting into Duke were actually that easy for most students.

    Beyond casual learning, however, the larger issue is how students can sell that education to prospective employers. These programs so far don’t offer degrees, the currency that most employers are looking for. A Washington Post article notes that online courses have improved remarkably in the past three years, though there’s work to be done in gaining acceptance by employers:

    … as more universities adopt online curricula and develop alumni networks, the employer stigma may start to dissipate. We have a remarkable way of getting comfortable with online activities (like credit card purchases, or dating, or book reading) that were previously dismissed as unworkable or creepy. But for the moment, online colleges haven’t gotten to that point yet.

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