Can MOOCs offer new patterns of knowledge accreditation?

To what extent Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) could diversify the existing mechanisms of skills recognition and knowledge transfer? Lack of evidence in this field make challenging to distinguish between speculation and reality. However, there are promising potentials in tools such as the “Verified Certificates” to become a new academic accreditation and therefore an instrument to ‘bridge’ between educational institutions, companies and governments. This presentation aims to retrieve and compile useful sources to better understand the potential of MOOCs in order to enhance employability in emerging and developed economies around the world.

MOOCs are a relatively recent online learning phenomenon. During the last months they have generated considerable media attention and interest from Higher Education Institutions (HEI) and venture capitalists, who see a business opportunity to be exploited. The expansion of MOOCs has opened up discussions about their transformative potential to HEIs by opening up the possibility of online learning and Open Educational Practices (OEPs) as strategic choices for the future (Yuan & Powell, 2013). One of the business adopted suggests that everyone who registers for a course is not charged but those who seek credentials certifying that they have mastered the content are charged a “small fee” for such certification (Bowen, 2012).

Pros Cons: Some accounts of MOOCs are positive: they provide novel educational formats (Haywood, 2012); they open up learning to more people (Mackness et al., 2010), improving quality, reducing cost and speeding up certification (Shirky, 2012).  However, MOOCs also attract criticism. A recent survey of UK university vice chancellors indicates that only 8% think it is highly likely that MOOCs will lead to reduced fees for “HE services” (Morgan, 2013). While some academic institutions, such as the Open University in the UK, see MOOCs as a prioritization of quantity over quality (Bean, 2013), others note the extremely high level of dropout (Zellner, 2013; Parr, 2013). MOOCs have also been criticised for adopting a knowledge transmission model that lacks any innovation (Cuban, 2013). Among others, there are two problematic elements in this debate. It has been stated that MOOCs play a key role in providing opportunities for engaging in lifelong learning outside of the confines of an institution (Kizilcec, Piech, Schneider, 2013). In that sense, MOOCs are praised for being a transformative force for the existing education market, providing more flexible methods for skills and knowledge recognition (i.e. signature track, competency based credentials, independent commercial examiners, open badges, etc.). There is still a lack of research exploring the extent to which these more flexible models of certification are acknowledged by employers (Gorissen, 2013). The second challenge is to develop an empirical study focused on the understanding of MOOCs in non-English-speaking communities. Since “language differences, cultural barriers, local relevance of materials, access concerns, and the availability of adequate technical resources (infrastructure)” (Klemke et al. 2010) can hinder a broader adoption of these kind of open education initiatives, it is important to conduct research in this area in order to establish how some of these barriers may be overcome (Hatakka, 2009; Rossini, 2010; Klemke, Kalz, Specht, & Ternier, 2010).

Emerging economies: Most of the literature that discusses the applicability of MOOCs in ‘developing regions’ primarily addresses problems associated with connectivity and broadband, however there is evidence to suggest that the problem might not only be technical, but that there are more complex issues including institutional, cultural, contextual and even pedagogical factors that make MOOCs not necessarily an ‘exportable’ solution.

In sum, a number of key questions need to be addressed:

  • To what extent are MOOCs perceived as a beneficial innovation?
  • Should one-size-fits-all vendor-designed massive courses become the norm?
  • What are the barriers when foreign educational models are adopted in different cultural settings?
  • To what extent a “local” customization of these courses and certificates should be developed?
  • What benefits/challenges are observed by the education and employment sectors?
  • How are non-traditional forms of knowledge transfer valorized from the employer’s perspective?
  • Can the ‘soft certification’ contribute to meet the local demands of employability?
  • What recommendations should be adopted in order to consolidate MOOCs?


* This text is an excerpt of a larger document written by Dr. Edgar Gómez Cruz and the author of this blog.