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College isn’t the only place where people can learn. A growing number of services are offering a decent education without charging indecent prices for their services, allowing anyone with an Internet connection to observe lectures, read textbooks, and participate in hands-on projects. The only problem is that these alternative learning tools don’t offer degrees or other certificates to show that people have completed their classes.

That’s why MongoDB is today announcing its certificate program, which allows people to prove that they know how to work with its platform and the NoSQL database technology. Andrew Erlichson, the company’s Vice President of Education and Cloud Services, says that the certification program is the logical continuation of MongoDB’s education efforts. He continues:

There’s always been a thriving certification market. For years now you could become a certified professional, and those credentials do play a role in the work place, particularly at non-technical institutions. If I’m going to hire a network engineer I can ask them all kinds of network engineering questions. But let’s say a school principal wants to hire a network engineer. They can’t. They’re non-technical, and they really depend on these certifications.

Put another way, it’s hard to demonstrate an ability to someone who doesn’t understand what you’re doing in the first place. Having a piece of paper with the name of a trusted institution and some fancy lettering on it helps. (Insert your preferred higher education joke here.)

That isn’t to say that these services aren’t worth the time, of course. Many of them are really changing the way people learn new skills or expand their knowledge. And, luckily for the people running these courses, they don’t require as much maintenance as some might expect. In some cases they practically run themselves.

Erlichson describes his own classes as seeming “almost like a virtual reality for the students.” After the class is created and one group of people takes it the class can take on a life of its own without much input, he says. That’s one of the greatest things about online education, at least in his mind. “Students feel that the world is at their fingertips now, and they can train themselves with a new technology or topic with virtually zero cost. Credentialing is a big part of that.”

Online learning tools can really help people pick up new skills. That’s why they’ve become so popular in the last few years. But despite all of their efforts to bring education out of the last century and into modern life, it seems that the ultimate reward, at least in some cases, is still a fancy certificate with a few names on it.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for PandoDaily]