Massive open online courses providers — dubbed “MOOC” providers by the press — are finally starting to grow up.
Today, the best-known MOOC provider, Coursera, announced a “Specializations” certificate program. Students would receive a certificate for mastering a series of courses in a particular topic area rather than just one.
The ed-tech startup has partnered with various universities for the program and plans to launch 10 new Specializations in the next few months.
Two of the Specializations — Programming Mobile Cloud Computing Applications with Android from Vanderbilt and the University of Maryland and Reasoning, Data Analysis and Writing from Duke University — are currently open for enrollment.
Anyone can sign up for a Specialization — there’s no formal process. However, students will be required to complete the series of classes to receive a certification. And they’ll be asked to complete a project, which can be added to a portfolio and presented to a potential employer.
It’s a smart move from Coursera, which has struggled in the past with student retention. People rush to sign up for free and cheap online courses but rarely finish them.
Specializations is an important step that will provide more of an incentive for students to complete courses. In addition, it makes it much easier for people to figure out the right sequence of courses when hundreds (sometimes even thousands) are available.
According to Cousera, Specializations is primarily designed for professionals. Many of the specialization areas are technical, which makes them ideal for folks who need to brush up on IT skills.
“Most of the Specializations reflect career paths that are in high demand and have the potential to make a major impact on students’ ability to advance their careers,” explained Steven Syverud, a business developer at Coursera who heads up the Specializations program, in an email.
Syverud told me that the interest from university partners exceeded his expectations. “Many of the partners were actually very interested in putting together course sequences to give students a more meaningful credential or provide students a clearer path of study,” he said.
If they complete the Specialization, students will receive a certificate that they can attach to a resume. Coursera provided me with a link to a mock-up certification.
Coursera plans to add additional Specialization tracks from the following schools over the next few months:
- Berklee College of Music: Modern Musician
- Commonwealth Education Trust: Foundations in Teaching and Learning
- University of California, Irvine: Virtual Instruction
- University of Geneva and Leiden University: Challenges in Global Affairs
- Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai: Systems Biology
- John Hopkins University: Data Science
- University of Maryland: Introduction to Cybersecurity
- Rice University: Fundamentals of Computing