It is academic advising time here at Hendrix, which has given me some thoughts about a potential role of MOOCs.
It is very common for a student to sign up for a course and discover that the material is really not interesting or compelling. But this realization might not happen until several weeks into the course, well past the deadline to replace it with something else.
Furthermore, courses are something of a scarcity for the student.
At Hendrix, students take four courses per semester, with 32 courses required for graduation. In speaking with some of my advisees over the past two weeks, some of them have expressed that the trade-offs in deciding how to invest their precious course credits in filling out their academic portfolio are really quite stressful.
It could be suggested, then, that a student who is feeling indecisive about what to take could sign up for a couple of MOOCs in the pertinent subjects. The student could then use this experience to inform the registration decision.
Unfortunately, the synchronous model employed by Coursera makes this really difficult to do. You have to get the timing right. Coursera's offerings would really be a lot more useful (both in this regard and in other ways) if they would do what Udacity does and archive the course videos indefinitely.