"People come in, take a course and Linux is demystified for them," Zemlin said. He said that Amazon alone has 2,000 jobs that require a Linux background.
People who earn a certificate, though, shouldn't expect to immediately work on or contribute to high-level Linux projects. While jobs have different skill requirements, passing the MOOC course and acquiring some self-taught Linux skills could land a person a system administration position, Zemlin said.
"The course is not designed to teach you to code in C," he said. "They're going to learn how to use it to do some rudimentary things." With that base, he said, people can take advanced Linux courses or learn new skills from their peers by contributing to open-source projects.
Companies are starting to warm to the idea of online learning, said Agarwal, as more people turn to a MOOC to advance their careers.
"Traditionally employers have focused on a degree but we're seeing more employers and organizations that are trying to promote awareness that there are alternate forms of credentialing," he said. "I think that [an edX certificate] would be very useful for jobs and a course from the Linux Foundation would go a long way in that direction. My hope is that the MOOCs provide a credentialing mechanism that helps people get jobs."
Course grazers who review only certain portions of a class — a segment represented by 505,639 edX students in its first year — and don't get a credential are also welcomed to study Linux and take an edX MOOC.
"You're talking to the Linux guys," said Zemlin. "That's fine to us. It's free. Take what you like."
Judging the success of MOOCs by course completion rates misses the point that people "are looking to get different things out of MOOCs," said Agarwal. A perfect edX course completion rate doesn't indicate success if the MOOC "taught you nothing."
"It could take us time to figure out what is the right metric of success for a MOOC," he said. "We don't even know what the right metric for success for universities are. Is it that you passed or is it getting a quality education or is it that you obtained a job? There's more than one metric. Focusing on completion rates is not right."
The other five nonacademic institutions joining edX include the International Monetary Fund, The Smithsonian Institution and the Inter-American Development Bank. Seven academic institutions also became edX members including Colgate University, Hamilton College and the Open Courseware Consortium.
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