Can MOOCs revolutionize the college transcript?

This rise of the MOOC has spurred a reexamination of many entrenched higher education practices, such as the typical college course and how it’s taught, The Huffington Post reports. MOOCs and other forms of nontraditional learning may have an even larger effect on the nature of diplomas and transcripts.

People’s perceptions about what education is and what kinds of learning experiences matter are changing. The idea that learning occurs in many different environments — and that out-of-classroom experiences are just as valuable as in-classroom ones — is becoming more widely accepted. The question now is how to collect these diverse experiences into a meaningful representation of that newly acquired knowledge.

The traditional college transcript is particularly unsuited for this task. It lists the courses completed and how people performed. But it says little about what someone actually learned or what a person knows.

For example, young college students are eager to show their skills, signaling what separates them from the rest of the large pool of recent grads, especially in a very challenging job market. But there’s nowhere to put all of that additional learning on a traditional transcript. There’s no place to put all the online courses taken, the books read, or even other learning experiences like an apprenticeship.

The resume won’t suffice because, by necessity, it’s only one page and serves an entirely different purpose, to show work experience, not what someone knows. The skills and knowledge someone has should not be relegated to a few short lines at the bottom of the page.

George Siemens, who along with Stephen Downes ran the first MOOC in 2008, recently told the Globe and Mail that he thinks we might be moving toward a “portfolio model of learning.” In this model, all learning experiences will count, and the result may be a new type of transcript that combines all of them, no matter where they take place.

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