They're real online courses, from real universities, taught by real professors--and they're free. Some big-name institutions are offering free online courses for a number of reasons: to motivate students to head back to school, to help them piece together less expensive degrees from a handful of schools and more. And we're talking big names (think Yale and MIT).
But how universities pay for these no-cost classes is the problematic, probably unsustainable part. Most have outside, foundation funding that will inevitably dry up. And when it does, what happens to the students who have benefitted from the free courses, but can't afford the steep fees they'd need to pay to finish a degree?
This is a phenomenon to keep on the radar as the search for a sustainable business model rages on.