MOOCs are already creating alternate pathways to the workplace that bypass college altogether. Udacity, which started at Stanford in 2011 and now has over 400,000 users, recently announced that Microsoft, Google and other companies are sponsoring classes through its site to develop skills those companies need workers to have. Students can pay a nominal price for certificates showing they passed the courses — one of the ways MOOC companies support themselves.
Kamenetz thinks colleges and universities will respond by finding new ways to integrate open online courses into their offerings. A teacher at a community college could use a MOOC by a top-tier professor in the way a professor uses a textbook — as a foundation for a course, with other learning activities wrapped around it.
University of California is exploring the idea of creating MOOCs on its central campus and "franchising" them to its satellite campuses, she said. "This creates efficiencies, and provides a strong avenue for limiting costs in higher ed," she added.
MOOCs are being incorporated in flipped classrooms, in which learners watch lectures and complete online assignments at home, and do interactive projects with their teachers during class time. And, they might provide a solution for students who currently must wait to get into overcrowded programs such as nursing.
"If we can certify learning after taking courses online, then we don't have that problem of people being derailed in their quest for a degree and a job," Kamenetz said.
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