Employers and Technology as the Ultimate Solution to Credentialing Barrier of MOOCs?

A recent report entitled “The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape” from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching responds to increasing pressure on bringing more innovation, flexibility and transparency in measuring students learning. (See definitions of The Carnegie Unit and the Credit Hour on page 8 of report. A typical three-credit course, meets for three hours per week over a fifteen-week semester.)
The study finds that in absence of an alternative, the Carnegie Unit continues to be the standard measure in the American education system. “But at best, the Carnegie Unit is a crude proxy for student learning. The U.S. education system needs more informative measures of student performance. Achieving this goal would require the development of rigorous standards, assessments, and accountability systems—difficult work, especially in the field of higher education, where educational aims are highly varied and faculty autonomy is deeply engrained.”
In this context of increasing need of change and innovation in measuring student learning, employers may again emerge as the final arbitrator, as they already do it in traditional learning. The research on signaling mechanism in higher education is says that employers use education credentials as a way of filtering and sorting candidates.
Kevin Carey agrees and states in his piece “Here’s What Will Truly Change Higher Education: Online Degrees That Are Seen as Official” that “Free online courses won’t revolutionize education until there is a parallel system of free or low-fee credentials, not controlled by traditional colleges, that leads to jobs.” He bases this argument on different kinds of information communicated by traditional college degrees. Degrees serve following purpose:
– Give meaning and structure to set of courses
– Provide access to graduate degrees
– Serve as a filter (sorter) for jobs
Carey adds that “Traditional college degrees are deeply inadequate tools for communicating information.” This is where “information technology is poised to transform college degrees. When that happens, the economic foundations beneath the academy will truly begin to tremble.”
In specific, the “The new digital credentials can solve this problem by providing exponentially more information.” “Open credentialing systems allow people to control information about themselves — what they learned in college, and what they learned everywhere else — and present that data directly to employers. In a world where people increasingly interact over distances, electronically, the ability to control your online educational identity is crucial.”
Carey notes that the “…failure of MOOCs to disrupt higher education has nothing to do with the quality of the courses themselves…. What they don’t offer are official college degrees, the kind that can get you a job. And that, it turns out, is mostly what college students are paying for.”
Matthew Pittinsky in his article “Credentialing in Higher Education: Current Challenges and Innovative Trends” asks are information systems in educational institutions ready to capture diverse information on student learning in a scalable way? Are we enabling “…learners and graduates to use that framework to integrate their certificates and diplomas into their online identities? Students should be able to claim an electronic credential, with the associated security that makes it official….They need the ability to collect multiple credentials from their home institution and also other institutions—licenses, badges, MOOC certificates, and experiential, academic, or competency transcripts—so they can share and deliver those credentials securely online.”
In sum, credentialing of MOOCs and its peer innovations of blended learning and competency-based education, face several challenges and barriers within academia, however, the solution may lie outside academia, perhaps, in acceptance of employers and enablement of technology. Change is coming and it is going to be exciting and exigent yet, uncomfortable and unpredictable in nature.
Dr. Rahul Choudaha
Related links:
The digital degree, The Economist