There's no guarantee, though, whether that education will carry the heft of a degree from a top college.

Currently, Coursera provides an instructor-signed course-completion certificate with a disclaimer saying they don't know if the student was the one actually doing the course work.

If the student wants to prove they did in fact do the work, they can take an exam in which a proctor monitors the student through a webcam, Koller said. That service costs students $50 or can be waived through a financial-aid application.

How MOOCs apply to a college degree is even more complicated.

"Credit is always in the eye of the receiver," Cooperman said.

It's up to individual institutions whether or not they'll apply MOOC certificates to degrees — the Holy Grail, according to Koller.

All those details, Cooperman and Koller said, are part of the ongoing experiment to adapt education to a world that has changed technologically.

"The days in which what we learned in college was still good enough to sustain us 15 years later as productive members of society, those days are long gone," Koller said. "The world is moving much to fast."

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck