Project Proposal: Credentialization and Its Discontents
Fred recently blogged about how there is such a large surplus of educational content that he would like to consume and yet he is unable to follow through on most of these pursuits. I would count myself in Fred's camp with regard to my desire to learn and my inability to finish course material. All of this fits into a narrative Fred and I have been discussing through our posts, namely credentialization. People don't really want to learn, or are at least not sufficiently motivated by learning alone. People want credentials; they want a diploma, a major, or a certificate that said I achieved XYZ and am thus fully equipped to take on task ABC.
Given the amount of free online course content though, there is not a corresponding set of exams and assessments that allow online students to earn credentials for the content they learn. For these mobile learners, as long as the test they've taken is a credible measure, their credential has weight. There already exists the infrastructure for this to happen because of structured distance learning programs (think ProctorU).
Testing is a large market but tends to be monopolistic or oligopolistic in nature. Yet there really isn't a market for students who learn online out of internal motivation. If there existed a credential hub online where you could go to achieve credit in a particular subject or course, it would not only increase the value of learning and the incentive to take advantage of free educational content, but it would be the first big step to breaking down the emphasis on signals and credentials in education. To give this idea its best chance, the assessments should be focused on higher education courses, since there exist no standardized assessments in this realm and plenty of educational content.
Now the question arises, why should anyone even want to take an online test to gain an online credential? What weight does it really carry on the labor market? Don't we need a reputation first? This is a difficult question but I'm not sure a reputation has to come first. Reputation is built as more users find the assessment sand credentials useful and a reliable indicator of ability. We could certainly run studies to further the value of a credential/assessment-hub to that extent. There is also the issue of grade inflation in many higher learning institutions which can be succumbed by standardized assessment (everyone has more confidence in someone who received a B and a 5 in AP Chemistry than in someone who received an A and a 3).
There are a lot of details I iron out in my project proposal, but the basic gist is that there is the potential to build the equivalent of a low-cost College Board for online education and higher education simultaneously.
Please let me know if this idea seems interesting or has any legs so that I can send you the project proposal to get feedback