Visit Modern Campus

Microcredentials Transforming MOOC Positioning and Higher Education Models

The EvoLLLution | Microcredentials Transforming MOOC Positioning and Higher Education Models
As employers and job-seekers begin to recognize the value of microcredentials, higher education institutions will have to do more to ensure they’re certifying hard and soft skills while transitioning to more of a lifelong learning model.

Alternative higher education providers have been making huge waves in the postsecondary space in recent years, and none more so than Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) providers. Though there are a number of MOOC providers in the space, few have been as visible as Coursera, with its massive reach and huge number of institutional partners. In this interview, Rick Levin reflects on the impact the trend toward microcredentialing has had—and will have—on the market position of MOOCs and shares his thoughts on what may be their long term impact on the postsecondary environment as a whole.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How is the growing recognition for alternative credentials—like certificates and badges—impacting Coursera’s position in the postsecondary education market?

Rick Levin (RL): Coursera was founded four years ago with a vision to create a place where anyone, anywhere can transform their life by accessing the world’s best learning experience. With more than 20 million learners worldwide, we’re beginning to see the positive impact online learning has had on people around the globe. For example, last year Coursera, University of Pennsylvania and University of Washington looked at the impact of online learning on career and educational outcomes. The findings indicate that open online courses have a real impact on learners. Among people looking to advance their careers, 87 percent reported a career benefit of some kind and 33 percent reported tangible career benefits, such as getting a raise, finding a new job, or starting a new business. These benefits are reported at an even higher rate among learners from emerging economies, in lower SES brackets and from other non-traditional education backgrounds.

We’ve also seen growth in how employers view Coursera credentials in the workforce. Talent managers and job seekers are increasingly turning to alternative credentials to help validate marketable skills—Coursera Course Certificates are already one of the most popular certifications shared on LinkedIn profiles. HR experts look to online courses as a way to both find new talent and also build skills for their existing employees. Google and other well-known brands have started to list online courses as recommended qualifications for technical roles, and the Department of Education is piloting a program to provide federal financial aid for online courses.

We expect to see this trend continue, and for more employers and individuals to look to verified online credentials to fill skill gaps. Our goal is to continue to lead the postsecondary education market in offering the best content to support our learners in reaching their personal and career goals.

Evo: How can organizations like Coursera help move the needle on improving recognition of soft skills?

RL: We work closely with our partners to offer learners a broad range of content that not only enables them to acquire hard skills like programming or data science expertise for specific careers, but also more nuanced soft skills that are applicable across industries and career levels.

We see huge interest in our courses that teach the softer skills, such as Learning How to Learn (University of California, San Diego) and Introduction to Public Speaking (University of Washington). We regularly hear from employers that cite soft skills as one of the most important development areas for their employees and potential candidates. With competition for top talent fierce across industries, credentials that demonstrate soft skills function as differentiators that will play an even greater role in identifying talent.

Evo: What role do colleges and universities need to play in improving the diversity of credentials available to students of all ages?

RL: This rise of non-traditional education is shifting perceptions that education is a one-time investment made in one’s teens or early twenties, and reinforces that learning unfolds over a person’s entire life. To improve the diversity and range of credentials available to all students, our partners are indispensable. Our 145 partners are the top universities and education institutions in the world. Their participation is in the space of online education is lending huge credibility to the value of online credentials.

Evo: Looking to the future, what role might organizations like Coursera play in a more unbundled postsecondary environment, where students can pick and choose courses and credentials with full choice?

RL: At Coursera, we currently offer different types of credentials to meet a variety of learner goals. In a world where we constantly see the emergence and maturation of new industries, the single four-year degree formula for long-term professional success needs to evolve to support new career paths and corresponding skill-sets. With lifelong learning becoming an economic imperative, we set out to create a framework that recognizes the skills that people acquire throughout their lives. By offering a range of microcredentials, we envision online higher education moving toward more flexible, stackable degrees that fit modern lifestyles and worker needs.

Today Coursera offers three types of microcredentials: The first is a Course Certificate, which learners can earn by completing a single module. If learners complete a series of courses on a particular topic (for example in Cybersecurity or Android Development), they can earn a Specialization Certificate. Learners can also choose to earn a full degree (currently Coursera offers an MBA and Masters in Computer Science-Data Science from the University of Illinois), which is earned by completing a series of Specializations. The stackability of our courses is critical for non-traditional learners, who need flexibility to take and complete content within their already busy lives.

Author Perspective: