“Beyond learning outcomes, beyond looking at a transcript, employers want some kind of evaluation to learn what [a potential worker’s] communication skills are,” said Tandon.

“It’s not possible to just use traditional assessment mechanisms that we have employed in higher ed,” said Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera.

Michael Horn, co-founder of Innosight Institute, agreed that educators must let go of traditional constraints and open themselves up to many possible outcomes. “Having an expansive view of what those outcomes could be is important,” he said.

The panelists agreed with survey data that reflected younger Americans’ desire for flexible online course formats.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) allow students more opportunities to explore their interests without relying on their friends’ or family’s opinions, leaving home, spending money, or failing on their transcripts, attested Koller.

Rising college dropout rates are often contributed to frustrating remedial math courses, said Rep. George Miller, the democratic ranking member of the House Education & the Workforce Committee. He suggested that MOOCs could be successful in remedying this growing problem.

This begs the larger question: Should MOOCs become eligible for college credit?

“The first population that was the bulk of [Coursera’s] initial pool were people who were continuing education,” said Koller. “They’re never going to go back to school and get another degree, [so] they couldn’t care less [if the courses were credited].”

However, Koller acknowledged that as Coursera has gained popularity, younger students are taking the courses, and more introductory courses are being offered to cater to this growing population. As a result, the demand for credit has greatly increased.

The American Council on Education (ACE) recently announced its plans to begin evaluating Coursera courses for credit deservedness early next year. ACE President Molly Broad said: “It’s an exciting opportunity for us to raise our game.” Broad looks forward to identifying what parts of MOOCs are more effective, and what technological tools allow students to learn best.

Aoun highlighted the two greatest American higher-ed initiatives, something that he described as “the social contract”: to educate the citizens and prepare them for a fulfilling life, and to ensure that the nation remains strong and competitive.

“This is a wake-up call for us,” said Aoun. “We cannot afford to ignore it. The social contract needs to be rethought and redefined, and we are here to do that.”