Online learning is becoming more like offline learning, with the well-funded education startup Coursera announcing today a program that will award certificates from leading universities to students who complete a selection of courses on a certain topic and a culminating project.
This is a bit more lightweight than a full college major, as Coursera’s initial “specializations” will require as few as three courses. However, some are more involved, like a nine-course Johns Hopkins certificate in analyzing data sets or an eight-course Commonwealth Education Trust certificate on effective teaching.
Coursera is emphasizing that the specializations will direct students towards real-world learning. For instance, one of the first specializations open for enrollment is from Vanderbilt and the University of Maryland on making Android apps.
Plus, an important theoretical side benefit of structuring courses into curricula should be pressuring online students to stick with their classes.
Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have been criticized for low retention rates — Coursera’s is a tiny four percent.
However, that stat includes anyone who registers for a free online class, which requires only lifting a few fingers.
Students who say at the outset that they are trying to earn a certificate have successful completion rates of 24 percent, according to Coursera co-CEO Daphne Koller.
In addition to the schoolwork, obtaining a Coursera specialization certificate will require students to verify their identity and pay on a per-course basis, usually $49 per course.
Paying students have average retention rates of 63 percent, according to Koller.