An increasing push for online courses with no student tuition has helped address the education access problem. But it's also left a gap when it comes to course credit.
Massively open online courses do not offer college credit currently for students, even though established universities create them. And that's a problem for students who want to have something to show for their time, said Jessica Bayliss, director of education for Education Portal, a for-profit course provider.
"It's great for students who want to learn from these prestigious institutions, and I know that they've been really successful in attracting students, but what they're not doing is providing that path to college credit," Bayliss said.
Education Portal has been offering a path to college credit for the past year at no cost to students. The course provider designs courses around the College Board's College Level Examination Program (CLEP), though it does not have a partnership with the company. With subject-matter experts and professionally created videos of less than 10 minutes, Education Portal has reached more than a million students in the first year of its operation.
Its parent company, Remilon LLC, uses profits from other areas of its Web media operations to subsidize Education Portal. And it's basically not monetizing the education courses because its mission is to make education accessible.
One way to make it accessible is through $80 CLEP exams. The exam results show whether students can demonstrate college-level learning. And if they pass, they can receive prior learning credit from 2,900 colleges and universities in the U.S. that recognize the exams.
"The problem with CLEP right now is that you have to learn the material on your own," Bayliss said. "It's not like an AP exam where you take your AP class and then at the end of the year, you take your exam."
That's why Education Portal courses are designed around the concepts that the CLEP exams cover. While students can't get credit by taking the class, they can get credit by passing the exam.
Here's how these types of courses measure up against Coursera, which provides a massively open online course platform for universities.
Coursera partners with established universities, basically giving professors a platform to teach huge audiences. Education Portal does not partner with universities and finds its own subject-matter experts to teach the classes.
Both of them are for-profit companies that do not charge students to take a course. But Coursera does not have a clear path for students to get college credit at the moment. Education Portal does.
Currently Education Portal offers more than 800 lessons and is adding them at a rate of 30 to 40 a week. The course materials are all uploaded so that students can start a course whenever they like and have access to everything at once. Coursera hosts 201 courses from 33 universities worldwide. Classes have scheduled start and end dates, and professors provide access to materials on a weekly basis.
Coursera has discussion boards and ways to interact with other students, the professors and their aides. Education Portal does not have any engagement platforms now. However, it does plan to work on that in the future.
"Being in a classroom where you have an engaged discussion with your fellow classmates and your teacher is something that you can't replace with videos on the Web," Bayliss said, "and I think there's a place for both."