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Coursera takes step toward monetizing MOOCs; will offer certificates for a fee

Coursera is taking a big step toward the monetization of MOOCs by offering students the opportunity to earn Verified Certificates for select courses hosted on the company’s learning platform, the Mountain View, CA startup announced today. For a fee, the Signature Track program will verify the identity of the students doing the work in order to provide them with a more meaningful certificate that does not provide university credit toward a degree program, but does prove their success in a rigorous online university course.

Initially, Coursera will pilot Signature Tracks for five courses, including UCSF’s Nutrition for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, UCSF’s Clinical Problem Solving, Duke’s Introduction to Genetics and Evolution, Georgia Tech’s Computational Investing, Part I, and Illinois’ Microeconomics Principles. Eventually, Coursera plans to offer Signature Track for a large majority of its courses. Free access to Coursera’s online courses will remain available to all students, allowing Coursera to continue to work toward its core mission of making high-quality education available to everyone.

“When we started offering our courses on Coursera, we aimed to extend the reach of our university’s intellectual strengths beyond our own halls, to a global classroom,” said Peter Lange, Provost of Duke University. “Now, we hope that these credentials, while they will not contribute directly toward a degree, will afford students around the world, of all ages, backgrounds and resources, an opportunity to have a legitimate credential for their work in order to advance their career or fulfill themselves personally.”

Students will have up to two or three weeks from the eligible course’s start date to decide if they want to participate in its Signature Track. After deciding to participate, students will create a Signature Profile by first taking two photographs with their webcam: one of themselves and another of an acceptable photo ID document. Next, students will create a biometric profile of their unique typing patterns by typing a short phrase. When a student submits work in the course, they authenticate their identity by typing the same short phrase, which is then matched to their recorded samples.

Upon successful completion of their course, students will receive a Verified Certificate issued by both the participating university and Coursera. Students will then be able to electronically share their detailed course performance, in a verified format, with anyone they designate via their personal Course Records page on Coursera.

The initial price for joining Signature Track will vary depending on the course and generally range from $30 to $100. Coursera will also offer students who cannot afford the fee the opportunity to register for financial assistance.

“Offering verified certification for our courses will open up many new and valuable opportunities for students,” said Joseph Castro, Vice Chancellor of University of California, San Francisco. “And charging a small fee for these certificates gives our university the ability to cover the cost of free course offerings, ensuring that we’re able to continue providing high-quality content to students around the world.”

“We created Signature Track to allow students to verify their identity and show that they did the work, and thus provide a more valuable credential, without detracting from the experience of our free courses,” said Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng. “For students that would benefit from Signature Track but cannot afford it, we felt that offering financial aid is important, to further our mission of making education available to everyone,” added co-founder Daphne Koller.

This announcement follows Coursera’s agreement with the American Council on Education (ACE) to evaluate credit equivalency of a subset of courses on the platform. Along with the opportunity to pursue ACE CREDIT recommendations, Signature Track will expand students’ ability to receive recognition for their online coursework.

Check out Coursera here.