Online Masters: But Will Students Go For It?

Georgia Tech seems to think so, the institution’s approach was discussed in The New York Times article, “An Online Education Breakthrough? A Master’s Degree for a Mere $7,000.”

“Some may see online learning as experimental or inferior, something associated with down market. But the nation’s best universities have fully embraced it.”

-Robert Reich, Former United States Secretary of Labor

What’s different now, is that students are demonstrating a willingness to pay for access to prestige as explained in the NYT article:

And this willingness to pay is one of the reasons institutions are doubling down on micro-credentials. 14 institutions have joined the newly formed edX MicroMasters Partnership, demonstrating how much they believe in this new approach.

But to see how far we’ve come, let’s dig into the past.

MOOCs Spur Online Degree Revolution

Way back in 2012, MOOC pioneers edX and Coursera promised the ultimate in education accessibility. And with technology as the curriculum (content) delivery vehicle, anyone-anywhere would have access to world-class education. In the end, what learners really got was proximity to prestigious professors and content for a great price. However, what MOOCs didn’t offer, were ‘official college degrees’.

That was a problem because as it turns out, students pay for school because they want the outcome, the degree – the kind that gets them a job. Yet many institutions held back on participating in MOOCs.

And then something happened that caused a change.

A few years later in 2013, enter the micro-credential. These were a natural extension of a learner’s journey. The ability to gain recognition for what they’ve mastered in a single competency. Students could ‘blockchain’ these recognitions into a valuable credential. Now, anyone could self-construct the curriculum necessary to develop the skills they needed that were previously attainable only by those who could afford to pay for a traditional education.

MITx Re-imagines Credentials by Disrupting Traditional Course Structure

Building on this trend, in 2014 MITx offered a new approach to MOOC instruction and certification, greatly expanding on the individual course doctrine, long the staple of the traditional classroom world. We actually explored this topic three years ago: ‘Imagine All the Credentials’. MITx believed that learners and employers would ultimately find value in an earned certificate. MITx began offering the XSeries – which took a modular approach to building a credential. They utilized edX’s ID verification process to provide the added value of identity assurance for the certificates.

Next page: Protecting Credential Integrity

Assuring the academic integrity of the assessments given in the MicroMasters program is imperative to safeguarding the value of the micro-credential. That’s why all institutions participating in the edX MicroMasters will be required to make a percentage of exams in their programs – online proctored exams. Similar to the proctoring process utilized by students in the edX Global Freshman Academy, MicroMasters learners will take a percentage of their exams using online proctoring technology. To be eligible to earn credit for the course, students must take and pass the proctoring review for the class.

EdX partnered with Software Secure to ensure the integrity of online assessments. EdX needed a solution with an asynchronous approach that could scale very quickly to thousands of learners. The proctoring solution was an important next step in providing a secure and verified learning environment for those students interested in credit bearing courses.

Becoming Legit: Value to be Gained in Non-Traditional Degree Pathways