U-Md. and Johns Hopkins offer specialized sequences of online courses via Coursera

A major provider of free online college courses from prominent universities has begun to offer “specialization certificates,” for a fee, to students who complete a sequence of courses in a given subject.

The certificates, for courses taken via the online platform Coursera, are the latest development in a movement that advocates say will democratize elite higher education. Coursera hosts what are known as massive, open online courses, or MOOCs, from dozens of colleges and universities. Anyone with a computer connection can register and take the courses for free.

Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, two of Coursera’s partners, are among the first to offer specialty sequences of courses. Hopkins is listing a sequence of nine MOOCs in data science, with certificates available to those who pass all nine, complete a capstone project and pay $490.

U-Md. is listing a four-course sequence in cybersecurity, with a certificate available to those who pass all four, complete a capstone project and pay $245. U-Md. also is teaming with Vanderbilt University on a three-course sequence in mobile cloud computing with Android, with certificates available for $196.

Since MOOCs became a widespread movement in 2012, there has been much debate over how — and whether — they will shake up the business model of higher ed. Coursera, with offerings from the University of Virginia and many others, is a for-profit company based in California.

A nonprofit MOOC provider called edX, based in Massachusetts, is overseen by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Georgetown University is among the schools that provide courses for edX.

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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