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Whether Massive Open Online Courses replace, reinforce or undermine the traditional university model, the real test of their success will be whether the sophisticated and high-tech learning content can be transformed into credible accreditations for employers.
Recent figures leave no doubt Moocs are living up to the massive tag. There are more than 10m Mooc learners and 432 Moocs running across Europe alone (1,533 globally) from a few hundred different providers, according to Open Education Europa research.
For Moocs to really succeed they require the same commitment to measuring impact as any other university learning initiative. Or perhaps more commitment since Moocs can potentially be accessed and completed by hundreds of thousands of candidates, with no close ties to an educational institution.
Equally, the data from some Mooc programmes is already suggesting that learner completion rates can be low if the quality, delivery and candidate perception of value are not high enough.
I draw a parallel with the birth of the IT certification market, where IT vendors such as Microsoft promoted the credibility and take-up of competency in specialist software. Starting from a similar position in the 1990s to Mooc providers today, many IT vendors have since developed certification pathways which not only validate competency on a particular platform or product but are then actively sought out as a hiring standard by employers.
Mooc providers should see the potential of Mooc assessments, perhaps not to help gain a job but certainly to help gain an interview.
Learner outcomes from Moocs can only really be successfully measured with a test, whether as a single or series of formative and/or summative tests. The current trend with informal testing and quizzes may be suitable for some very low-stakes courses, but real credibility comes from both what and how you test along with the outcomes for candidates.
Credibility means no cheats or frauds
On university campuses, tests are invigilated to minimise the biggest threats to credibility and value: candidate impersonation and exam cheating. High-stakes assessments need proctors – whether in-person or remotely – to ensure both the registered candidate is taking the assessment and that opportunities to cheat are minimised. Whilst internet-based tests offer some security measures such as keystroke recognition, in their current form they cannot provide the level of security required to push Mooc assessments into the mainstream credibility consciousness of their stakeholders.
The Mooc experience also needs to be seamless for candidates and institutions, from the moment students consume content for the first time, to the point when they are ready to sit an exam and the results are fed back to the course provider.
Mooc to the future – the era of badging
The final part of increasing credibility, and in monetising Moocs, is by maximising the use and sharing of a Mooc credential. Your candidates have taken and passed secure tests, but how do you really spread the word to employers? And how can they in turn verify the validity of a credential?
Innovative solutions to this credibility issue are already available and one that holds particular promise is Mozilla’s Open Badges standard – a portable, secure and digital representation of an achievement. I predict employers will soon embrace Open Badges as the common currency for determining job-ready skills of Mooc graduates.
Assessment may be the final lap of any Mooc journey, but the race to create monetised content, which is recognised by employers, cannot really start without it.
Matthew Poyiadgi is managing director EMEA at computer-based testing company Pearson Vue, part of the Pearson group, owners of the Financial Times.