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What is the purpose of a MOOC?

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Over the past six months or so, many of the MOOC networks have been concerned about the poor completion rates on many of their courses.  There have been numerous attempts to solve that particular challenge, from offline study groups to social learning.  One particular area of focus of course has been that of certification.

Certifying the progress of students carries a number of benefits for the MOOCs.  Firstly of course, it allows the MOOCs to monetize the large numbers of students churning through courses on a weekly basis.  Secondly however, it also provides students with a tangible output from their weeks of study.

The role of these certificates has varied, with some simply providing evidence that the student has completed the course to a reasonable level, whilst others have attempted to offer points towards a more substantial qualification, such as a degree.

Now, this blog isn’t about how valid MOOCs are at validating the learning undertaken during a course.  There are plenty of articles on that topic already.  What I would like to touch on however is the value inherent in the certificates themselves.  It seems that many universities are stuck in the mindset that they’re universities, and therefore the natural desire of students is to consume more of what universities have to offer.

For instance there are numerous ways in which professionals seek to prove their skills and knowledge in the marketplace.  Few of them thus far have any kind of connection with a MOOC.  For instance there’s no way of highlighting the courses you’ve completed on an oDesk or LinkedIn.  There’s no way to link your course completion to your CPD record.

All of these things are arguably more valuable than a bite sized chunk of a degree that most people are likely to never undertake, let alone complete.  Much more needs to be done to communicate both the kind of subject matter learned in each course, and how that might be of any relevance to anyone else.

After all, whilst there will no doubt be many people doing MOOCs purely for the sake of learning something new, there will be many that will be doing them, and indeed might be put off of doing them, that would love a more tangible way of showing off the new knowledge they’ve obtained.

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