Online Courses

Colleges have almost always offered additional classes over the summer, but for many, these on-campus courses are steadily being replaced by their more convenient online counterparts. With just four summers before graduation, students have become increasingly concerned with maximizing the efficiency of their time before the real world and the need for employment rears its ugly head. With internships and other work experience becoming paramount prior to applying for full time employment, many students simply cannot afford to spend their summers stuck in the classroom.

The online classroom has become the primary answer to this issue: students enrolled in accredited online programs are able to start and finish their courses whenever, even while working full time internships, part time jobs, or even taking vacations. Reminiscent of the old adage of the full time employee taking night school to complete a degree, technology has now opened up the same opportunity for ambitious students while granting the flexibility to scavenge scraps of time to complete these studies rather than requiring fixed hours throughout the day.

In a world where such convenience is increasingly necessary, it is no surprise that such courses have quickly risen in popularity. In particular, one recent innovation that may someday challenge traditional college education is the creation of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

MOOCs, as the name implies, are open courses offered via platforms such as Coursera, Udacity, or edX to millions of prospective students around the world. Although most MOOCs currently do not have the potential to offer full degrees that many online university programs do, what they do offer is the potential to learn from the world’s best and brightest: each course is recorded and designed by renowned professors from top universities, including Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, and MIT among others.

One of the most popular and influential MOOCs of all time is Stanford University’s Machine Learning course by Andrew Ng. With over 1.1 million enrollees since its inception in October 2011, this course inspired Ng to co-found Coursera, which now offers courses from over 120 universities and educational organizations. Similarly, the MIT/Harvard based edX platform has attracted over 7 million users and 70 participating institutions, with over 200,000 users of its popular introductory circuits class.

Although the majority of MOCC courses do not currently provide transferrable credits to college institutions, they have already become a great source of self-improvement based learning that can allow students to develop useful and applicable skills for future work. Many services, including both Coursera and edX have begun offering “verified certificates” distributed by the platform at low costs that can be listed on resumes or forwarded to potential employers. Although this falls short of the current standard of professionally obtained degrees from traditional college campuses, there is potential in a future with credential based coursework becoming just as valuable as a formal degree in the field.

For now, MOCC platforms have devoted much effort towards legitimizing their services by tying their services to traditional college credits. Similar to the AP exams that can provide incoming college students with credits taken during high school, MOCC programs are targeting their courses to prepare students for the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DSST tests, both of which can be used to gain credits and advanced placement. In light of the avid popularity of these courses, some colleges have begun opening up to offer full or partial college programs, including Georgia Institute of Technology’s full computer science master’s program or Arizona State’s Global Freshman Academy which offers 3 credits taken completely online for $600, less than a third of the price of its regular online classes.

Although it may be a while before students can earn their entire college diploma through MOCCs, there have been significant advances in the legitimizing the value of such courses. With efforts made by the American Council on Education to refine MOOCs into credit-bearing courses, perhaps the classrooms of the future will truly be held online. For now, even if you might not get college credits for taking a course, it might not be bad to learn a new skill or get ahead of the curve with some free online classes.