Many places offer massive open online courses and many more will. But Coursera, Udacity and edX are the leading providers. Heres how they differ:
Profile: For-profit with Stanford roots; 33 university partners, including many Ivys, Duke, California Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Berklee College of Music.
Courses: 197 in 18 subjects, including computer science, math, business, humanities, social science, medicine, engineering, education.
Assessment: Software grades quizzes, homework, problem sets; five other students grade written responses. Many instructors allow quizzes to be taken multiple times, with highest grade counting (a different quiz each time).
Academic integrity: Click a box agreeing to an honor code.
Social interaction: Online forums and study groups, meet-ups organized by students in about 1,400 cities.
Pacing: Most courses have start and end dates, though its possible to join a course after it has begun, as long as it is before the registration cutoff date.
What you get: Some instructors offer signed certificates of completion, but not from the university. Beginning next semester, Antioch University students can get credit at the Los Angeles campus for approved courses.
Profile: For-profit with Stanford roots but no university affiliation.
Courses: 18, in computer science, mathematics, physics, business.
Assessment: Software grades tests, problem sets, programming assignments.
Academic integrity: Proctored final exams at Pearson testing centers, for $89.
Social interaction: Online forums and study groups, meet-ups organized by students in over 450 cities.
Pacing: Courses taken at own speed.
What you get: Certificates according to academic performance: completion, distinction, high distinction, highest distinction. Colorado States Global Campus accepts transfer credit for a course in building a search engine. In a free job-matching program, résumés are sent to partner companies, including Google, Bank of America, Twitter, Facebook and TrialPay, based on their job openings and students analytics (grade, participation level).
Profile: Nonprofit run out of M.I.T. and Harvard; with the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas system.
Courses: 8, in chemistry, computer science, electronics, public health; plans for 20 to 30 in the spring.
Assessment: Software grades tests and homework.
Academic integrity: Some final exams are proctored, at Pearson testing centers for varying costs. To prevent copying, users get different, randomly generated numbers in their problem sets.
Social interaction: Rudimentary; only one course, given by the Harvard School of Public Health in quantitative methods, has regional get-togethers.
Pacing: Courses have start and end dates. Registration closes two weeks after start date. Students may miss a week but lose points if they dont make a deadline for turning in an assignment.
What you get: Two certificates available, one designating an honor code, one a proctored exam. Both bear the edX and campus name for example, MITx, HarvardX, BerkeleyX, UTAustinX. The New York Times
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