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Thursday, June 13, 2019

MOOC-Based Alternative Credentials: What’s the Value for the Learner? | EDUCAUSE Review

With learners today earning more substantive credentials and, in some cases, academic credits through MOOCs, the authors designed a study to investigate the benefits and costs to learners who are engaging in a series of open, online courses that provide a culminating nondegree credential.

When massive open online courses (MOOCs) first grabbed the attention of major media outlets in 2011, bold claims were made about democratizing education and providing high-quality credentials at a fraction of the costs of traditional degrees by Fiona Hollands and Aasiya Kazi. 

For a research center like ours that studies the cost-effectiveness of educational programs and strategies, MOOCs seemed too good to be true. The prospect of high-quality instruction being offered at mass scale sounded like the perfect candidate for cost-effective education. However, our investigations showed that while it was feasible to assess the cost side of the equation, the benefits were much harder to capture.

Initial Investigation 
Initially, we set out to investigate the costs and benefits of MOOCs from the perspective of the institutions offering them—mostly colleges and universities.1 Among the things we heard from these institutions was that MOOCs
  • helped them extend their reach and improve access to education;
  • helped them build and maintain their brand both in the United States and abroad; and
  • inspired many instructors to reconsider their teaching methods and experiment with innovative strategies. Indeed, in a few cases, this led to documented gains in student learning.2
MOOC-related data provided fodder for research on teaching and learning, albeit with study samples limited to a rarefied population of well-educated, self-motivated learners. A few new lessons about online learning transpired from MOOC-based research, such as how students engage in courses and use course materials.3 But, as researchers astutely observed,4 none of these insights were successfully applied to improve the notoriously low course completion rates...

As previously found for stand-alone MOOCs,11 a typical MicroMasters or Specialization learner is well-educated, employed, White or Asian, and older than traditional college-going students. Many participants in these programs have no intention of earning the credential or pursuing a further degree upon completion. They mostly expect career benefits, including improving their job performance, helping themselves start a new business, improving their applications to a different job, or networking with other professionals. These findings suggest that these programs are more akin to professional training for on-the-job employees than to a traditional college education.

For those learners that earn the MicroMasters or Specialization credential, the costs are much lower than a traditional college credential. Despite the potential benefits to employers of low-cost professional development for their employees, few are stepping up to contribute to fees or pay their employees for their time spent acquiring additional skills. However, if this small trend continues upward, it will be an important sign of growing recognition by employers of the value of these courses and credentials. 

Source: EDUCAUSE Review