March 4, 2012 / TAMAR LEWIN
What’s so special about a diploma?
With the advent of Massive Open Online Courses and other online programs offering informal credentials, the race is on for alternative forms of certification that would be widely accepted by employers.
“Who needs a university anymore?” asked David Wiley, a Brigham Young University professor who is an expert on the new courses, known as MOOCs. “Employers look at degrees because it’s a quick way to evaluate all 300 people who apply for a job. But as soon as there’s some other mechanism that can play that role as well as a degree, the jig is up on the monopoly of degrees.”
By the end of this year, Mr. Wiley predicted, it will become familiar to hear of people who earned alternative credentials online and got high-paying jobs at Google or other high-visibility companies. “Udacity may help that process along,” he said of the startup company offering two MOOCs this semester taught by prominent engineers.
Mozilla, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and others are working to devise a system of online educational “badges” certifying exactly which skills had been learned. Some companies, like Microsoft, already offer their own certificates for trained computer technicians.
Some educators doubt that such credentials will ever command as much respect as a diploma from a well-known college. And of course, to be trustworthy, alternative credentials would have to be at least as cheat-proof as traditional ones. And that is not so simple.