Free online courses for college credit? Sort of

Coursera, a for-profit educational technology company launched by two former Stanford University computer science professors, has 43 college courses to more than 680,000 people worldwide. The site could have more than 100 classes by January, according to a company announcement.

Tony Bates, an eLearning consultant who has tracked the rise of MOOCs, said the role of free courses in higher education is murky at best.

He pointed to MOOCs’ 10 percent course completion rate, and said it isn’t clear what percentage of online learners can pass a class’s final exam without studying any of the course curriculum.

Until more is known about the effectiveness of MOOC-based learning, colleges and universities are unlikely to follow UW’s approach.

“This is not to deny the value of MOOCs, particularly in putting pressure on existing institutions to change, but there is much room for improvement,” Bates wrote in a blog post. “We need to look at how we can benefit from both more conventional online learning and from MOOCss, not set one off against the other.”

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