Are online courses and MOOCs with certificates from top universities worth it?

Are online courses with certificates from top universities worth it?What is a MOOC? Easy access to quality education is the underpinning for a developed and healthy global society. While the idea is extremely noble, there are large parts of the world struggling to keep up with such provisions. For many, even in developed countries, affording high standard of education is a dream that is quite mercilessly walked over.

For over a century, the traditional university and classroom system has reigned over the concept of regulated and credentialed education. While it is still absolutely still championing the cause, there has been a somewhat disruptive innovation that has taken the world by storm – the Massive Online Open Courses or MOOC.

MOOCs came up as an idea somewhere around 2006 and back in 2012, it started to become a widespread phenomenon with Coursera and Udacity, pioneered by Stanford professors, and edX, led by MIT and Harvard. Suddenly people, anywhere in the world, had access to real courses created by real experts, delivered in a course fashion, only online.

Read Udemy vs edX vs Coursera

Over the years, these open course platforms have become quite popular. While some of the courses are for-profit and monetized, for a rather insignificant sum as compared to traditional degrees, quite a few are also available free, either as a whole or in an audit format. Since their conception, platforms like edX with over 2000 courses and 14 million users, and Coursera, with over 2000 courses, over 180 specializations and even a few Masters Degrees plus over 25 million users, have become synonymous with independent resources of knowledge for many.

However, with its relative youthful stage of existence, it is natural to question a few very important points about MOOC – Are online courses / MOOCs, including those from the top universities worth it? Will their certifications hold value for their recipients? And the most crucial, How do recruiters view these MOOC certifications as compared to traditional degrees?

Before we dive head on, let us understand what are the challenges that MOOCs face. We will end the discussion, in this article, with some of the measures that can make MOOCs more marketable and reliable to recruiters. We have based our discussion on several researches that have been cited along the way.



What are the challenges faced by online courses and MOOCs?

According to several research studies, mentioned in a review done by University of Aegean and University of Catalonia, here are some of the major challenges for MOOC providers.

  • Its massiveness and low teaching involvement are a key concern. The structure mainly rests on lecture videos and assessments, with a lot of emphasis on connectivity between students within the online sphere. There is however a want for student teacher interactions that is usually a given in traditional face to face classes. The massive nature also makes it difficult for any design to accommodate a more involved approach by teachers.
  • MOOCs are designed to get large enrolments with students from anywhere, often with varied educational background and other characteristics. Such an inhomogeneity causes MOOCs to be structured such that they are useful to everyone who participates, often causing learning dissatisfaction for students who are either too advanced, or too behind.
  • The dropout rate of MOOC courses has always been a concern. Though with enrolments in the hundreds of thousand, a 10% completion rate still makes for a massive output.
  • Owing to its youth, there is not enough feedback data to establish their long-term usefulness or improve its effectiveness.
  • All assessments have to be designed such that they can be done using automated tools.
  • Cheating is also a big concern. Students have also been known to open multiple accounts to obtain the right responses for assessments.

Though there are many ways in which MOOCs are addressing their various concerns, the only real metric to measure a MOOC courses’ value is in its perception within the community of recruiters.

What is the perception of online courses and MOOCs among recruiters?

A thesis research at Indiana University of Pennsylvania examined hiring managerperceptions of MOOCs. For the study, the researcher surveyed over 200 individuals consisting of employers, recruiters, and HR executives, in the current job market. The study conclusions, on par with other previous research work on many levels, had some resonance amidst the two research questions posed. A simplified version of the questions were – What kind of attitude do hiring managers have towards MOOCs as postsecondary education? Does a previous MOOC exposure alter hiring manager’s perceptions?

Here are some key takeaways, among others, within the current researchers in the field, studying MOOC impact.

  • The research concluded that at present times, hiring managers prefer job candidates with traditional degrees, which is generally used as a measure of higher education and career success. Apart from the scepticism that most recruiters share about the integrity of MOOC certificates, degrees tend to provide a clear metric. MOOCs generally tend to be about filling skill gaps which is usually not measured during the recruitment process. For instance, only 31% of respondents, in the study, worked for an organization with some form of skill assessment for recruitment. It is usually assumed that someone with traditional credentials would have already been tested by a rigid university credentialing system.
  • The second research question is also in favour of degree holders. Even though a recruiter with MOOC experience is more likely to consider MOOC candidates, the fraction of recruiters with MOOC experience is still possibly low.
  • The hiring perceptions are also dependent on the industry sectors. For instance, technology sector seems to be more open about human capital, or skills gained towards productivity, rather than other liberal arts fields that rely more on credentials.
  • Although connectivism is a major plus in MOOC courses that usually depend on peer interactions on social media, forums, and discussion boards, hiring managers perceive traditional education systems to be more aptly suited in building communication, team work, and other collaborative soft skills.
  • Despite the hiring hesitations, promotability is not really affected traditional degree or MOOC wise. Promotions usually rely on skills and employers have begun to realize the vast potential of MOOCs as continuing education for their employees.

Having raised the concerns and explored the recruitment near-future of MOOC credentials, let us move on to what make MOOCs so popular. And what would make a MOOC course beneficial for you.

Read How do employers look at online degrees?

Benefits of online courses & MOOCs

  • The most important and obvious benefit is the accessibility. MOOCs are available worldwide and offered by top universities and their faculty members.
  • It may not have reached the elite status of traditional degrees, yet, however MOOCs are an excellent means to enhance your skills for progressing in the job market.
  • The classes are self-paced and allow you to orient your continuing education on your schedule and at a much lower cost than a traditional degree.
  • Even employers recognize the relevant nature of MOOC courses against traditional courses that take years to update.
  • A lot of MOOC courses now offer university credits towards your degree in your school. In fact, Coursera even offers Masters Degrees online.
  • They offer a means to customize your learning and treat your education as a consequence of your desire and not simply another degree for the books.


How can online courses / MOOCs improve and become more practical?

MOOCs are a huge resource of education data that can be analysed to further improve the learning environment, online and beyond. MOOC users and their learning behaviour can be used for improvements. Incorporating artificial intelligence methods, data analysis, and other agents, MOOCs can strive to improve the design, delivery, and assessment experience of the courses. Such software tools can also be employed to enhance user identity verification and attempt to eliminate incidence of cheating and fraud. Thus making MOOCs all the more credible.

Are online courses with certificates from top universities worth it?

So, what do we conclude. Should you or should you not consider online courses and MOOCs as reliable learning environments?

The answer simple, at least at this juncture of technological progress – MOOC still has to cover some reliability and sustenance tests, against the century some years old university degree and credentialing structure. This will probably come with more years of sustained output and more MOOC learners joining the job market.

However, as is the present situation, MOOCs are a very reliable resource for degree-holders to enhance their skills to meet the labour market expectations and improve their chances of career growth within an organization.
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