With free online courses taking off at an eye-catching pace, and more casual online learners gaining job-boosting skills in these courses, it was inevitable that someone would ask: “Hey, is this going to count toward my salary?”

And the question is valid.

After all, for a long time now, workers in various industries have been getting instant pay bumps for increased education. Teachers, for instance, in most states get an instant salary increase when they complete a certificate or graduate degree. No negotiating with the boss. It’s instantaneous. The same is true in government and many other industries.

In fact, a huge chunk of online students are full-time workers who are trying to increase their earning potential by completing online certificate and degree programs in their off-hours. And employers are often happy to pay for the courses (via tuition reimbursement) and give raises when a degree or certificate is completed.

The idea there is that with additional courses and certificates, workers get better at what they do and they’re worth more money. The idea is that additional knowledge is worth paying for.

So what difference would it make if that education was paid for with tuition or if it was obtained for free through a massive open online course? Either way, employees are getting more highly educated, skilled workers, right?

Not exactly, says the vice president at the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. “We don’t have a lot of experience or credibility accrediting individual courses.”

Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center of Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, acknowledges the same problem. “The accrediting system is having a great deal of difficulty with new technology and with anything that smacks of learning outside of fully accredited higher education institutions,” says Carnevale.

Colleges and accreditation are the only gatekeepers for whether a person’s education is legitimate or not. On top of that, these bodies only recognize completed certificates and degrees. In turn, employers also only recognize degrees and certificates. It’s not being old-fashioned or stodgy. It is literally their only means of verifying that the education an employee claims to have gotten is in fact real and worthwhile.

So when, if ever, will these free online course count in eyes of employers? Obviously, a new way of verifying an employee’s education will have to be invented. Perhaps, colleges and companies can also make a place in their hearts to have each course count for something.

Until this happens, students of MOOCs can expect to receive no extra credit for their time in the virtual classroom.

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