"If MOOCs could spark in a student a fire in a subject they know nothing about, it might lead to a resolve to overcome challenges of financial or geographic barriers," he says.
[Explore online programs for international students.]
4. MOOCs can impress a future employer or admissions dean. "I'm seeing my students use MOOCs for their college applications," says Ng of Coursera. "College admission officers are starting to take it very seriously."
MOOCs can serve the purpose of AP classes, which were designed to simulate college classes, he says.
"There's no better way to make a positive impression on an admissions dean than to prove you can do well in college courses," Ng says.
Taking a MOOC to learn new job skills can also be a great way to climb the professional ladder, experts say.
"I think we will see more of these types of courses on people's resumes, with examples of skills so that employers understand what they've learned," says Dean Tsouvalas, editor-in-chief at MOOC Advisor, a free service for students exploring the courses.
5. MOOCs can be used to assess college readiness. Students interested in coming to the United States to study now have a new way to gauge whether they are prepared for college courses.
Prabhakar is a few years away from making a college decision, but says she'd love to follow in her sister's footsteps and head to the University of Pennsylvania.
The social aspect of college life would be new to her. But she's fairly confident she could do well in her classes. After all, she's already done well in several MOOCs taught by the school's professors.
"I think I've gotten a view of how college lectures are, how professors and students are and how lessons are taught," she says. "They're quite challenging, and do involve a serious time commitment."
Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.