Coursera Will Offer Certificates for Sequences of MOOCs

Coursera will soon offer credentials for more than just individual MOOCs. The company, which provides hosting and support for massive open online courses, announced on Tuesday that it planned to give certificates to students who take sequences of MOOCs from its university partners.

“You might think of it as a real-world ‘major’ with immediate applications to career advancement and life skills,” the company said in a blog post.

The new program, called Specializations, will include certificates in data science, mobile-app development, and cybersecurity. Each sequence will comprise three to nine MOOCs, plus a capstone project in which students will be asked to apply their skills, by building an app, coding a secure web page, or producing a 5,000-word essay.

Two sequences, each comprising three MOOCs, are now open for enrollment: one on building apps for the Android operating system, from Vanderbilt University and the University of Maryland at College Park, and one on reasoning and data analysis, from Duke University. Eight other certificate-bearing MOOC sequences will become available “over the next few months,” according to Coursera.

With MOOCs having made almost no impact on traditional degree programs, the ability of providers such as Coursera to help people use higher education in their careers could depend on whether the providers can develop alternative credentials that become legitimate currency in the job market.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced in September that it would offer certificates to students who passed a sequence of seven courses in computer science. edX, the nonprofit MOOC provider founded by MIT and Harvard University, calls such certificate programs “XSeries,” with the expectation that other institutions among its university partners will create certificate-bearing sequences of their own.

In general, nondegree certifications do carry weight in the work force. About 19 million adults in the United States hold some kind of postsecondary educational certificate that is not a college degree, according to a report from the Census Bureau. Median pay for a full-time worker who has an educational certificate, but no professional certification or license, is about $300 a month higher than that of a worker who does not have any alternative credentials, the report says.

But value does not come free. Similar to existing certificate programs, MOOCs that point toward meaningful credentials cost money. The MIT XSeries certificate in computer science, for example, is priced at about $425—the sum of the identity-verification fees attached to each of the seven MOOCs in the sequence, plus a program fee.

Coursera, too, charges a per-course fee, of up to $90, for its Signature Track courses, which verify the identities of students taking the course. Since Specialization certificates will involve Signature Track courses only, the certificates will end up costing students $200 to $500, including a $30 fee for the capstone project, said Julia Stiglitz, Coursera’s head of business development.

Coursera believes that low-cost certificate programs are a better match for the rapidly changing demands of the job market than traditional degrees are.

For example, students who earned computer-science degrees less than a decade ago never learned how to build mobile apps during their formal education, Ms. Stiglitz said in an interview. “Specializations can provide that bridge” to the more recent, specific demands of employers, she said.

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