One the reason we have the idea of a novel, text book, etc is because of restriction on printing. The reason we have the idea of an 'album' in music is again because of limitation on that media (it's not cost effective to produce a bunch of singles and you can't fit much more than an hour of music on a single album due to constraints of traditional media). Likewise the idea of a semester/quarter long course are essentially based on the limitations of various resources.
Ideally we'll see the length and structure of courses change with time. Why have the idea of a course at all? Why not just a directed graph of prerequisite lectures? (Khan does a decent job of this)
We're starting to see it form organically, but I think the best situation would be goal directed learning where you pick out a point on the graph and say "I want to be here, doing this" and then you fill in all the prereq nodes until you're there. This also allows us to think about knowledge and learning in much more creative ways, rather than choosing to major in art or computer science, you could say I want to use genetic algorithms to create generative art, now how do I get there?
My biggest pet peave is the whole notion of a monolithic college "degree". Being forced to sell your car to pay $5000 (you do the math) for a class in interpreting Winnie-the-Pooh from a marxist-feminist perspective in order to get an engineering degree is maddening.
If employers began accepting a la carte credentials, classes would move toward their real market values in a system of open competition. Monopolistic "tying" (if you want this important class, you'll have to also pay for this useless class) would break down and people could be much more strategic and fine-grained about what courses they took and what they were willing to pay for them.
And I would have to believe that most employers would rather have a candidate who had taken the $5000 the university had earmarked for the support of their staff marxists and applied it to about three more engineering classes, one tech writing class, and an accounting class.
Perhaps they didn't do a good-enough job of selling the benefits of the course to you? And so you weren't dedicated enough. Is this possible?
Not for me. In fact, the classes I took, I would have never taken years ago (free or not). I didn't have the professional context nor the organic curiosity to see the value. I have this context now; this is what motivated me to enroll and ultimately, what motivates me to continue even though making time for the lessons is tough.
Anecdotally, it was a bad design choice for me. I took a Udacity class in the first round after their launch and followed along with the due dates pretty well. The next round when due dates were dropped, I basically dropped as well. I found myself saying "I'll catch up on this week's unit next week" until after a few weeks I was too out of sync with the course to feel compelled to keep going.
On the flip side, I felt the one week/unit deadline was tough to work with at times given work and life, etc and wished it was two weeks/unit, or perhaps Udacity to even give you an option to choose a schedule: allow a) one week/unit, b) two weeks/unit, or c) whatever, etc. This way the course still has some structure and fixed deadlines, but it's a little more tailored to your lifestyle.
I know my success rate with udacity over something like khan academy definitly comes from having a structure that I can work on every week.
I've taken several online courses now and one of the greatest things I've learned is how I learn.