Summary:

The American Council on Education says that it has approved a handful of Coursera courses for credit equivalency, meaning those classes could count toward a degree.

online degree

Massive open online classes are moving ever closer to legitimacy. Last month, Udacity announced a partnership with San Jose State University to pilot three online classes for college credit. And on Wednesday, Coursera is set to announce that five of its courses have won approval from the American Council on Education (ACE) for credit equivalency.

That doesn’t mean students of those courses will be guaranteed credit by traditional universities — institutions have the option to accept or decline the credit — but it indicates that the courses meet ACE’s standards. And, importantly, it creates the opportunity for Coursera students to not just use online classes to burnish a resume, but to potentially earn a degree.

When Coursera first announced its decision to seek ACE approval back in November, Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng told GigaOM:

“Ever since we launched Coursera, we’ve known that university degrees are important. We wanted a more systematic way for students to earn academic credit… This is just a step in that direction.”

Over the past few months, in addition to Udacity’s San Jose State partnership, a few institutions, including the University of Helsinki and the University of Washington, have unilaterally announced that they would award credit for some Coursera courses.

But the ACE recommendations mean Coursera classes could be eligible for credit at potentially 2,000 U.S. colleges and universities.

To be eligible for the credit, students need to sign up for the course’s Signature Track, which requires them to take extra steps to validate their identity, and then take an online proctored exam (through third-party ProctorU). The Signature Track costs $60 to $90 and the proctored exam costs $30 to $99.

For now, just five courses have been approved for credit equivalency, four for college credit and one for vocational credit: Pre-Calculus from the University of California, Irvine; Introduction to Genetics and Evolution from Duke University; Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach from Duke University; Calculus: Single Variable from the University of Pennsylvania and Algebra from the University of California, Irvine.

Momentum is certainly building behind massive open online classes (MOOCs). But it’s important to remember, as we saw this week when Coursera was forced to suspend a class for the first time after complaints about technical glitches and the design of the class, they’re not without their limitations and are still very much evolving.

Image by jcjgphotography via Shutterstock.

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