VIRGINIA M. ROMETTY, the chief executive of I.B.M., recently urged her employees to take 40 hours of continuing education this year. The company would not reimburse tuition, but would pay for expenses, like textbooks.
The offer inspired Todd Watson, an I.B.M. executive in Austin, Tex., to update his knowledge of corporate finance. But who needs tuition? Instead, he signed up for a free finance class created by the prestigious University of Michigan and offered by a start-up called Coursera. The company promotes massive online open courses — known as MOOCs.