Ever since bachelor degrees became the equivalent of a high school diploma in the workforce, the market for college degrees has grown exponentially. Probably the notion that everyone should go to college is not a good thing, but that is a topic for another time.
People may be surprised to find out that I’m a big proponent of online learning. Or, more precisely, of learning at scale. Having hundreds of instructors create their own courses each year is inefficient — it is, in fact, more efficient to create high quality courseware once, and then disseminate it to thousands (or millions) of learners.
Up until twenty years ago, this kind of high quality courseware was called books. So, clearly, this “write once, teach everyone” model is viable. The problem is that many people are not interested in learning anything; instead they’re interested in getting a credential that says they learned something.
Case in point: MOOCs. A MOOC is a “massive open online course”, wherein one instructor (or a team of instructors) operates a course online — usually for free. Sort of like the Linux version of higher education.
These were all the rage in academia for, say, 10 minutes, until people figured out that you can’t make any money by giving stuff away.
Well then, who is going to pay the professors? Who is paying for the servers? The IT folks? hmmmmm…
Various models have been tried. Some proposed — like open source advocates in the late 1990’s — that the impact would somehow monetize itself. Tell that to Linus Torvalds, who, despite writing the most used piece of software on the internet, is not anywhere near the Forbes Billionaires list — although Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Larry Ellison are.
Probably the most successful monetization approach for MOOCs is where the course is free, but the books (written by the MOOC-givers) cost several hundred dollars. This seems fair and reasonable; the videos, quizzes, etc. are kind of loss leader , drawing the students in and then getting them to pay.
However, the statistics are overwhelming — very few people who sign up for a MOOC without paying will complete it.
But, back to the original point of the article, the MOOC producers have learned that students don’t so much want to learn as they want a credential to show a prospective employer. So, why not give the course away and charge for the credential? This is a very market oriented approach.
The only problem is that we already have organizations that have students pay for credentials: they’re called diploma mills.
In the end, if you want to create credentials, you have to have valid, authentic, and secure assessments. More on this in another post.