Online education is trying very hard to make itself more respectable

I’m currently enrolled in a free online Coursera class on terrorism through a university located in the Netherlands, in which I watch lectures and complete assignments from the comfort of my couch, ReadWriter reports.

As much as I enjoy the subject matter, though, completing the course in a timely fashion while maintaining a work-life balance has proven challenging.

I almost gave it up.

Instead of quitting altogether, I paid Coursera $49 to give me a “completion certificate” so I’ll have a reward when I complete the course. Putting actual money on the line turned out to be all the incentive I needed to keep going.

Online education services like Udacity and Coursera bank on students like me to drive them to success. And if recent online course offerings are any indication, this year we might start to see a trend towards legitimacy and profitability that proves open education has staying power among the multitasking masses.

2013 proved to be a banner year for online education. Massive open online courses, sometimes called MOOCs, surged in popularity, due to advanced offerings and a promise to make university-level education accessible. But these companies also faced considerable scrutiny.

In attempting to disrupt traditional education and become a standard of online learning, MOOCs suffered very low retention and completion rates as well as skepticism surrounding their business models. Coursera, one of the most popular online education companies, averaged a retention rate of just four percent across all courses, according to Coursera cofounder Daphne Koller.

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