Online education isn't what it used to be, and the landscape is shifting by the day. Here's a guide to some of the traditional and emerging models.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs)

  • What they are: Private-sector self-paced classes featuring professors and curriculum from dozens of top-tier universities.

  • Who can take them: Anyone in the world with an Internet connection. In just a year, more than 3 million people have signed up to take classes through the three biggest providers: Coursera, edX and Udacity.

  • College credit: Mostly certificates of completion, not degree credit.

  • Cost: Most are free.

  • Grading: Automated grading of quizzes and most assignments and exams. Coursera uses students -- "peer-assessments" -- to grade more complicated assignments.

    A new kind of massive online course

  • What it is: Still in experimental phase, this model would offer anyone the chance to earn credits at participating colleges for a small fee.

    San Jose State and Udacity, a Mountain View-based startup, are testing it with three lower-level math classes.

    The University of Texas system might soon accept credits for some courses on the edX platform.


    Advertisement

    On Feb. 7, the American Council on Education, which represents college presidents, recommended four undergraduate courses on Coursera -- from Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania and UC Irvine -- for credit.

  • Who can take it: Right now, the San Jose State Plus pilot is limited to 300 high school, community college and university students. If deemed successful, it might be open to anyone by the summer.

  • College credit: Yes, depending on the college.

  • Cost: $150 per course for San Jose State Plus.

  • Grading: Based on exams. Udacity's midterm and final are proctored online.

    Traditional online courses

  • What they are: An option for college students who want to take one or more classes online, in addition to traditional on-campus classes. Limited enrollment permits students and instructors to interact.

  • Who can take them: Typically, students enrolled in the college or university.

  • College credit: Yes.

  • Cost: Usually included in regular tuition.

  • Grading: Often proctored, in-person exams.

    Private online degree programs

  • What they are: Private, online-only programs, such as offered by University of Phoenix and Kaplan University.

  • Who can take them: Enrolled students.

  • College credit: Yes, for a degree from the online institution.

  • Cost: Undergraduate degrees typically cost about $70,000, including fees. A new venture, San Francisco-based UniversityNow, charges full-time students about $10,000.

  • Grading: Assignments and exams.