Is getting a verified certificate on Coursera worth it? Article by Carolyn McIntyre, CEO of MoocLab This being one of the hottest topics of discussion on MoocLab’s forums, I thought it would be interesting (and hopefully useful) to look into this question a little deeper. For those of you who are newbies to online education and have no idea what I’m going on about (and that’s perfectly fine if it’s the case!), Coursera is one of the big MOOC platforms. MOOC? Massive Open Online Course – a top university course published online and accessible to anyone anywhere in the world for free. So, what is a verified certificate? Students who take a MOOC on Coursera have the option to obtain a certificate on successful completion of the course. The cost of this service starts at $49 per certificate and includes ID verification to validate that it was you who submitted the assignments: i.e. there was no cheating involved. Are verified certificates worth it? But the big question that is on many people’s lips is, are they really worth it? Is simply participating in a course not enough? After all, you are still gaining knowledge whether or not you get a piece of paper at the end or not. According to Coursera, “Verified Certificates ensure academic integrity” (Blog Nov 7th 2014). This is certainly questionable. Wikipedia defines Academic Integrity as the “avoidance of cheating or plagiarism; maintenance of academic standards; honesty and rigor in research and academic publishing.” Only, a recent study by MIT and Harvard has shown this not to be the case with cheating on MOOCs being actually quite easy to do. Having a “verified” certificate therefore doesn’t necessarily imply that you have gone through the course assessments, nor learned anything at all for that matter. This new method of cheating involves acquiring a course certificate in just an hour by creating multiple accounts on the MOOC platform and harvesting the correct answers to assessment questions. Coursera also claim that verified certificates “have become a key tool for learners to build and showcase skills to advance careers”. But does showcasing a collection of certificates actually demonstrate any skills? Well, no. Let’s face it, what employers are really interested in is what you can actually do in real terms, not a piece of paper featuring some course name which doesn’t actually demonstrate anything. And to add insult to injury, most employers wouldn’t accept a MOOC certificate as a valid credential anyway. So, in terms of “advancing careers”, the certificate itself is pretty useless. But despite the fact that these verified certificates don’t really stand up to their intended purpose, they DO have some advantages. Course completion rates on MOOCs have been a massive subject of debate in online learning circles, with the average completion rate currently hovering around 15%. This rate increases dramatically, though, where students opt to pay for a verified certificate. In a study from Harvard and MIT, students who took this option, were found to have a 59% course completion rate compared to only 5% when students enrolled in MOOCs without paying for a verified certificate. With this in mind, if you are serious about acquiring a certain set of skills with MOOCs and are unsure you have the necessary drive to complete the full course, then getting a verified certificate is worth it. There are instances, too, when having the verified certificate can potentially increase your career prospects. The emergence of specialisation programs using MOOCs holds a lot of promise where marketable job skills are concerned. These programs, such as Specializations from Coursera, X-Series from edX or Nanodegrees from Udacity, are made up of a series of MOOCs which together are designed to give you mastery in a particular subject field. What is particularly relevant about these course series is that they are mostly project-based allowing students to demonstrate the knowledge they’ve acquired in a specialization to an applied project. And this is exactly what employers are looking for – evidence that you can do the things your certificate says you can. Being able to showcase your actual work and connect it to a specialization certificate will add considerable value to your certificate. These specialised learning pathways using MOOCs are relatively new, but with the big corporates now getting involved, it’s just a matter of time before holding a specialisation certificate becomes a recognised credential in a particular industry field. Before verified certificates become truly “worth it” however, MOOC providers have some challenges ahead with the need to look at strategies to prevent cheating in MOOCs and then to raise awareness in the corporate world of the merits and academic integrity of this form of credential. Click here to have your say on MOOC Certificates For more information on MOOC Certificates, see our resources: Guide - A Guide to MOOC Certificates Guide - ID Verified Certificates in MOOCs Guide - How to add or change a certificate on LinkedIn Guide - MOOC Specialization Programs Article: Are MOOC certificates from Coursera and edX helpful in getting jobs?