In any case, over time the importance of credentials and certificates will decline. What MOOCs offer is a place and a mechanism whereby individual students can participate in activities and events related to a discipline, work through challenges posed by the course with other members of the community in an online environment accessible worldwide (much like the way open source software works today). These activities leave digital traces, and future employers will not look so much at credentials as they will depend on intelligent software which harvests these traces and constructs a digital profile of prospective employees.
This changes the debate regarding participation and completion rates and even motivation and academic skills. Instead of being requirements imposed by providers on students (usually as a means of assessment for credentials) they will become optional, something students can use to advance their own profile, but not in any way essential aspects of a course. Again, consider the case of open source software (OSS) – a person can contribute as much or as little as they wish, and there’s no sense to be made of OSS ‘completion rates’ or any such thing.
When we view MOOCs as a means of obtaining an education, and establishing a track record, rather than as courses leading to credentials, our original hesitation about the perceived weaknesses of MOOCs can be overcome. The democratization of learning will lead to large and small online courses provided by a range or providers – from major universities to governments to oil companies – but it will be students themselves who decide whether to participate, and whether these courses are worth their time.
I find this line of thinking really interesting and supportive of the idea that we need to move our focus to helping kids become self-organized learners. As access to learning opportunities grow, it will be the kids who can make most sense of those opportunities that will flourish. They will decide relevance and depth of “coursework” based on their own strengths, weaknesses, and needs at any given moment in their lives. And their ability to organize those learnings and experiences transparently will be what bring them to potential employers or businesses. This last part is already becoming more and more of a requirement. (LinkedIn anyone?)
Unfortunately, our emphasis these days is still solely on the credential and how we (the institution) organizes that path to the credential. We do our kids a disservice when we fail to give them the type of agency they will ultimately inherit in this new modern world of MOOCish learning.