In an industry where hotel and tourism careers still aren’t widely viewed as professions, offering a free online course to demonstrate their validity isn’t a bad way to get prospects through the door.

The pressure of choosing a college major has never been greater, and until recently students or professionals didn’t know what they signed up for until the first day of classes. The proliferation of free massive open online courses (MOOCs) changes this longstanding reality by letting people get a taste of a major without taking out their wallets.

Starting February 4, class is in session for anyone curious about a career in hospitality management- from the comfort of their computers or mobile devices. These free online courses are different from those offered for credit in that they’re usually only a few weeks in length rather than running an entire semester and they can be completed at a student’s own pace without adhering to rigid schedules of typical online classes.

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Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration will offer a hospitality management massive open online course (MOOC) for free, and topics include marketing, investing and human resources management.

“My son completed a MOOC, though not a hospitality management MOOC, and enjoyed it,” said Michael Collins, the interim deparment chair and professor at the University of San Francisco’s hospitality management program. “I think the more information that’s out there the better. I think this MOOC could very well lead people who weren’t interested in hospitality management to pursue the major.”

With more hospitality and tourism professionals saying the classroom often isn’t where the most important knowledge is imparted, a hospitality MOOC could be a viable option for some people.

“There is a value that can be added in the classroom provided the faculty have training to put that value-added material into that classroom,” said Collins. “It really depends on what the student wants in a career that would depend on them taking a free online course like this.”

“I take my classes to hotels and venues, but you can’t visit places in the MOOC. I see this being a great option for people in remote places who don’t have access to many hotels or don’t live near a hospitality management program.”

Collins admits he was one of the perpetrators who once thought a hotel career was a job that only helped pay the bills.

“My current career in higher education is a second career for me,” said Collins. “I was a bellman at a Marriott hotel after I graduated high school, and I ended up working at that hotel in the mean time while deciding what I wanted to do. When I was 18-years-old I had no intention of a career in the hospitality industry, I didn’t see it as even being a career to be honest.”

This is one of the first hospitality or tourism free online courses offered, along with University of Central Florida’s Rosen College tourism course which began in December. Collins added he hadn’t heard of other free courses in hospitality or tourism, and Gray Shealy, the executive director of Georgetown University’s new masters of hospitality management program, also told Skift he’s noticed a growing interest in pre-grad level hospitality programs nationwide.

Cornell’s MOOC is designed for experienced employees looking to build on what they already know, as well as those looking to gain a fundamental understanding of the industry.

“People will see that the industry is much more complicated than most people believe, said Bill Carroll, one of the professors teaching the MOOC. “We’ll also look at the demand for a complete travel experience.”

Carroll said the course will look at a case study in Spain, and that Cornell’s past MOOCs have been popular with people outside the U.S., mirroring the importance of the course emphasizing the industry’s global reach.

Photo Credit: The MOOC will look at how the hospitality industry impacts other industries using global case studies and top industry executives. Cornell School of Hotel Administration