If you have a child in college, or one about to go, the headline on this article looks crazy. You know more than most about the fast-rising cost of education.

But just as quickly as brick & mortar college costs are rising, online education opportunities are proliferating. Online classes are less expensive (even for degree-seeking students), more convenient, and may end up driving down the cost of a traditional college degree.

A growing number of online degree programs

It wasn’t that long ago that online learning was strictly for those who were curious but didn’t care about course credit. That was then. Today, you can get a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or even a PhD online from very reputable schools and often for a lower cost per credit hour than the in-person price at the same school.

For example, through Penn State’s World Campus, you could earn a bachelor’s degree in economics (among 19 fields of study), a master’s degree in finance (among 38 possibilities), or a doctorate in nursing.

Taken in-person, that econ degree would set you back $670-$770 per credit hour if you are a Pennsylvania resident or $1,200-$1,300 if you live out of state. Taken online, the cost is about $500 per hour no matter where you live.

US News & World Report is a good source of information about online degree programs.

Certificate and no-credit programs

Other schools are offering online certificate programs. The Harvard Business School recently began offering a Credential of Readiness (CORe). The three-course $1,500 program is designed for people who don’t have a business degree but want to learn “the language of business.”

A number of other schools, including MIT and Stanford, make many of their courses available at no cost for those who care more about the content than a credential.

Many online learning platforms

In addition to going direct to a university’s web site, there are many online platforms that offer individual courses from many schools and instructors. Some are free, others are not. For an additional fee, some courses offer various forms of certification that you successfully completed the course. Among the most popular platforms:

Coursera offers nearly 700 courses ranging from computer science to songwriting.

edX offers about 200 courses from universities such as MIT, the University of Chicago, and Wellesley.

Lynda.com allows you to take as many of its 2,700 classes as you want for as little as $25 per month. Topics range from web site development to photography.

NovoEd offers business, education, design, math, and humanities courses.

Udemy offers some 10,000 courses on everything from math to marketing.

Udacity offers mostly computer-related courses on topics such as web design and programming

The value of online learning

For anyone who loves to learn, online course providers offer endless opportunities.

But for those who care about credentials, one of the key unanswered questions has to do with value. Sure, online courses cost less, but will a prospective employer value your online degree the same as another job prospect’s traditional degree?

The answer likely varies by employer and may become less of an issue as online learning grows in popularity.

What’s been your experience with online education?