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Perceptions of MOOC Learning for Employability:

Public Education as Microcosm

A Dissertation

Submitted to the Faculty

of

Drexel University

by

Michael K. Webb

in partial fulfillment of the

requirements for the degree

of

Doctor of Education

November 2015
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PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING ii

Copyright 2015

Michael K. Webb. All Rights Reserved.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING iii

Abstract

Open educational resources (OERs) and massive open online courses (MOOCs) have

disrupted multiple areas of practice in higher education. OERs and MOOCs allow anyone with

high-speed Internet access the opportunity to learn content from universities around the world.

However, the lack of institutional credit for learning from a MOOC represents a major difference

from the existing higher education model. Without credit or a degree from institutions offering

MOOCs, students learning through these new formats have no commonly recognized means of

representing their knowledge or skill development. Thus, the employability of students pursuing

MOOC learning is unclear. The purpose of this study was to explore employers perceptions of

MOOC learning as they relate to the employability of MOOC students within the field of K-12

public education, with a focus on the three sub-fields of Business and Management, Education,

and Information Technology. Utilizing disruption, perceptions of online learning, and

credentialing as components of a conceptual framework, the researcher sought to answer the

question of how K-12 public education employers perceive MOOC learning as a means of

developing employable skills and knowledge. Web-based surveys and semi-structured interviews

were used in a convergent parallel design to gather perceptual data.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING vi

Acknowledgements

To my dissertation chair and committee members, Dr. Rebecca Clothey, Dr. Kristen

Betts, and Dr. Scott Warnock: Thank you for the encouragement and excellent, formative

feedback provided along the way. Your collective guidance and reinforcement has offered a

solidifying finale to my Drexel experience.

To my children, Lila, Oliver, and Elliot: Thank you for understanding that even Dads

have homework sometimes. You remind me that trying hard and learning something new every

day is something we should all do.

To my wife, Jessica: Thank you for the time, patience, and constant encouragement

youve given me throughout this experience. Like most things in my life, I could not have done it

without you.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING vii

Table of Contents

ABSTRACT ................................................................................................................................... iii

LIST OF TABLES ........................................................................................................................ ix

LIST OF FIGURES ....................................................................................................................... x

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE RESEARCH ...............................................................................1

Introduction to the Problem ......................................................................................................1

Statement of the Problem to be Researched .............................................................................2

Purpose and Significance of the Problem .................................................................................2

Research Questions Focused on Solution-Finding ...................................................................4

Conceptual Framework ............................................................................................................5

Definition of Terms ..................................................................................................................6

Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations ..........................................................................7

Summary...................................................................................................................................8

2. LITERATURE REVIEW .........................................................................................................9

Introduction of the Problem......................................................................................................9

Literature Review ...................................................................................................................12

Summary.................................................................................................................................38

3. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY............................................................................................40

Introduction ...........................................................................................................................40

Site and Population .................................................................................................................41

Research Design and Rationale ..............................................................................................42

Research Methods ..................................................................................................................44

Ethical Considerations ............................................................................................................46


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING viii

Summary.................................................................................................................................47

4. FINDINGS, RESULTS, AND INTERPRETATIONS ...........................................................48

Introduction ...........................................................................................................................48

Findings ..................................................................................................................................51

Results and Interpretations .....................................................................................................84

Summary.................................................................................................................................92

5. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS .................................................................95

Introduction ...........................................................................................................................95

Conclusions ............................................................................................................................95

Recommendations ................................................................................................................101

Future Research ....................................................................................................................104

Summary...............................................................................................................................104

LIST OF REFERENCES .............................................................................................................107

APPENDIX A: WEB-BASED SURVEY DESIGN ....................................................................122

APPENDIX B: INTERVIEW PROTOCOL ................................................................................129

APPENDIX C: DEMOGRAPHIC DATA ..................................................................................131

APPENDIX D: MEANS OF SURVEY DATA BY ITEM .........................................................135


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING ix

List of Tables

1. Diversity of Models Employed by Higher Education Open Educational Resource Initiatives

..................................................................................................................................................14

2. Crosstabulation of Online Course Participants and Perceptions of MOOC Acceptability for

Some Jobs within the School District .....................................................................................56

3. Crosstabulation of MOOC Participants and Perceptions of MOOC Acceptability for Some

Jobs within the School District ...............................................................................................57

4. MOOC Credentials without a Bachelors Degree: Means of Perceptions across Sub-Fields

..................................................................................................................................................63

5. Acceptability of MOOCs at Varied Education Levels by Role ..............................................65

6. Means of MOOC Perceptions by Hiring Areas ......................................................................69

7. Crosstabulation of MOOC Participants and Perceptions that MOOC Credentials are

Comparable to University Credits ..........................................................................................76


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING x

List of Figures

1. Conceptual Framework. ...........................................................................................................11

2. Qualitative Research Themes .................................................................................................50

3. Sample Population by Role. .....................................................................................................53

4. Sample Population by Hiring Area(s). ....................................................................................54


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 1

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Research

Introduction to the Problem

Open Educational Resources (OERs) have caused a disruption in higher educations

instructional and business practices since the launch of Massachusetts Institute of Technologys

(MIT) OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative in 2001 (Pence, 2013). OERs are loosely defined as

freely accessible resources for educational purposes (Pawlowski & Bick, 2012, p. 209). The

basic premise of OERs, therefore, is to provide open access to educational content.

In the period 2008-2012, a form of open resource termed the Massive Open Online

Course (MOOC) arose to much publicity (Paldy, 2013). MOOCs are distinguished from other

open resources in that they employ some form of online instruction, require enrollment in the

course, have the capacity to accommodate thousands of students in one course, offer course-

embedded assessments and activities, and, oftentimes, offer a verification of completion for

participants who satisfactorily complete all course activities (Maas, Heather, Do, Brandman,

Koller, & Ng, 2014; Yuan & Powell, 2013; Pence, 2012).

In a connected world where anyone can learn anything from anyone at any time (Bonk,

2009, p. 7), MOOCs could offer an alternative path for students to provide evidence of skill and

knowledge attainment (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014). The promise of open access to higher

educational opportunities through MOOC learning could allow those in remote locations or

without sufficient financial resources to complete coursework from universities around the world

and receive a form of verified recognition (Maas et al., 2014; Yuan & Powell, 2013). However,

the employability of skills and knowledge gained through MOOC learning is largely unknown.

In this chapter, the researcher will present the nature of the problem surrounding MOOC learning

and specific questions to be answered in this study. Next, the conceptual framework of the
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 2

researcher and of existing streams of research pertaining to MOOCs will be explained. Last, the

definition of terms, assumptions, and limitations of this study will be noted.

Statement of the Problem to be Researched

MOOCs have caused a disruption in the landscape of higher education, (Bell, 2013; Yuan

& Powell, 2013). However, their potential for offering a sustainable, alternative means of

pursuing higher education is still in question. Given that credentials from institutions of higher

education contribute to a students employability (Rivera, 2011; Schultz & Higbee, 2007), the

problem to be researched was the potential for MOOC students to gain successful employment as

a result of their study.

Purpose and Significance of the Problem

MOOCs enroll thousands of students who often have an associates or bachelors degree

(Emmanuel, 2013). However, the completion rates are reported to be 4-5% (Ho, Reich, Nesterko,

Seaton, Mullaney, Waldo, & Chuang, 2014). With a vision of providing access to high quality

higher education opportunities to those who otherwise may be excluded, MOOC providers like

Coursera and edX presently appear to provide more education to those who already have it

(Reshef, 2013). Many MOOC participants report career preparation as a primary reason for

enrolling in courses, and approximately one third of those indicates having received some career

benefit from their MOOC coursework (Zhenghao, Alcorn, Christensen, Ericksson, Koller, &

Emanuel, 2015). However, employers perceptions of the acceptability of successful MOOC

completion as a means to gain employable skills and knowledge is largely undefined. This may

be due to a lack of familiarity with MOOCs, a predisposed notion against online learning, an

absence of a universally-accepted verification of MOOC course completion, or a combination of

the three. Many institutions of higher education (IHEs) and credentialing organizations are
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 3

developing alternative crediting methods for MOOC coursework (Johansen & Wiley, 2011;

Raths, 2014; Raths, 2013; Youngman, 2013), but the resultant outcome of MOOC learning for

employability is largely unknown outside of the technology sector (Welsh & Dragusin, 2013).

In traditional models of higher education, students are presented with multiple

opportunities to gain recognition and display progress from a course or program of study: grades,

credit, and, ultimately a degree. Thus, students in these traditional programs easily provide

evidence of their own learning to share with potential employers. With MOOCs, however, the

various methods of recognition so prevalent in traditional programs take on new forms or cease

to exist altogether.

Purpose statement. This purpose of this study was to explore employers perceptions of

MOOC learning as they relate to the employability of MOOC students within the field of K-12

public education. Of particular focus was the likelihood of those employers of hiring a candidate

based on credentialed MOOC learning within the three sub-fields of Business and Management,

Education, and Information Technology (IT).

Significance of the problem. The significance of this study is movement toward an

accurate depiction of the place MOOCs occupy in the ecology of higher education through

evaluating how or if credentialed MOOC learning contributes to employability within the K-12

education sector. Within higher education, the inter-relationship between tuition-based credit and

learning appears inherently logical. Students pay tuition and receive credit in return for sufficient

achievement of course or program goals or skill attainment. However, MOOCs have disrupted

this model by offering knowledge and skills to anyone with Internet access, primarily for free.

The difference, therefore, is tuition-based credit. Tuition-based credit allows IHEs to receive

payment in return for acknowledgement of student learning in the form of credits which
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 4

ultimately amount to degrees. Students learning is recognized through grades earned and credits

awarded. Open resources like MOOCs may offer a certificate of completion for course content or

the option of a low priced enrollment rate (approximately $49-$150) for a verified course

completion certificate but they do not offer credit options, unless otherwise negotiated by a

sponsor IHE. The purported disruption of MOOCs to the long-standing business practice of IHEs

for providing credit for tuition-paying students could be furthered by perceptual data of

employers suggesting that course credit or degree attainment can be circumvented by new

methods of knowledge recognition used by MOOCs. Research has shown that some employers

view MOOC learning as an indication of candidates motivation and as a medium for

professional development for existing employees (Radford , Robles, Cataylo, Horn, Thornton &

Whitfield, 2014), but the potential for MOOCs to serve as an alternative route to employment is

still uncertain. The claims that MOOCs disrupt the traditional model of higher education and the

traditional credential of the university degree could be substantiated if verified MOOC learning

can offer a pathway to employment for participants.

Research Questions Focused on Solution Finding

To examine the perceptions of credentialed MOOC learning held by potential K-12 sector

employers, the following question and sub-questions were addressed:

I. How do K-12 public education employers perceive MOOC learning?

A. Under what circumstances would credentialed MOOC learning lead to

employment?

B. What are the differences in perceptions of credentialed MOOC learning across the

three sub-fields of Business and Management, Education, and Information

Technology?
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 5

C. What are employers perceived benefits and drawbacks of MOOC learning?

D. What place do MOOCs occupy in a candidates preparedness for employment?

Conceptual Framework

Researchers Stances

The researcher sought to examine the perceptions of potential employers within the field

of K-12 education as they pertain to the employability of skills and knowledge gained through

credentialed MOOC learning. The researcher presently serves as an educational services director

for a large, suburban educational service agency (ESA) charged with the continuing professional

education of K-12 teachers and administrators. The organization is investigating the use of

MOOCs in its content delivery. The same questions that perplex IHEs present themselves to an

ESA: What learning is gained from open content as a medium, how to sustain MOOCs, and how

to recognize students who successfully complete such coursework?

As OERs have expanded, educators have found new and different ways of gathering and

learning content for themselves and for their students. In the past, professional education

providers served as a unique source of enriching educators content knowledge and pedagogical

skills. With the advent of open resources and MOOCs, ESAs find themselves competing with

each other, IHEs, and private corporations to provide educators with professional education

opportunities. The knowledge and skill development capable of being offered by MOOCs far

exceeds the capacity of any one organization to provide. In the researchers role, this study

yielded pertinent information about MOOC learning methodology and potential benefits of

MOOC learning for employees and employment candidates. Furthermore, the researcher was

personally considered as a potential employer of candidates who have pursued higher learning

through MOOCs.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 6

Conceptual Framework of Research Streams

Since research into OERs and MOOCs, in particular, is relatively new, the areas of

agreement and debate in the field can be described as emerging. Thus, while much of the field is

still evolving, the main research streams used to examine the perceptions of credentialed MOOC

learning held by potential employers can be delineated as:

1. The disruption of MOOCs;

2. Employer perceptions of online learning; and

3. Credentialing.

Definition of Terms

The following terms are relevant to this study:

Credential

Formal recognition of educational attainment based upon established criteria from an

authorized entity (Institute for Credentialing Excellence, 2006).

Institution of higher education (IHE)

Degree-granting colleges and universities.

K-12 sector

Schools and districts providing direct instruction to students in grades kindergarten

through twelve. While K-12 encompasses public, charter, non-public, parochial, and

alternative environments, this study will focus on K-12 public (non-charter) schools.

Open educational resources (OERs)

[T]eaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public

domain and have been released under an open license that permits access, use,
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 7

repurposing, reuse and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions (UNESCO

& Commonwealth of Learning, 2011, p. v).

Massive open online courses (MOOCs)

A type of OER resembling an online university course but without tuition or university

credit, though many MOOCs offer completion verification from the sponsoring platform

(e.g., Coursera, edX) for a fee.

cMOOC A type of MOOC oriented toward connectivism, peer learning, and

participant autonomy. cMOOCs are geared toward the creation of knowledge

through and by a network of learners focused on a specific topic (Chauhan, 2014).

While elements of cMOOCs can be used in xMOOCs, cMOOCs are not typically

categorized as extensions of existing university programming.

xMOOC A type of MOOC that is less connectivist in nature and attempts to

approximate the traditional university model through the use of instructor-led

video lectures, presentations, learning activities, and a directed path for

participants. MOOC platforms Coursera, Udacity, and edX primarily offer

xMOOCs rather than cMOOCs. These courses are considered extensions of the

sponsoring universitys programs (Chauhan, 2014). Because xMOOCs more

closely resemble a tuition-based, university-sponsored online course, they served

as the focus of this study. The term MOOCs is used when referencing xMOOCs.

Assumptions, Limitations, and Delimitations

Assumptions

MOOCs have grown rapidly in popularity within a short time frame, and data regarding

learning outcomes is beginning to emerge. This study was conducted at a time of high interest
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 8

and development in MOOC models. Much like variation in types of educational degrees, specific

courses, or even institutions, not all MOOCs result in the same learning experience. This study

assumed a similar experience across individual MOOCs and looked at the acceptability of

MOOCs as a whole rather than focusing on specific MOOCs or platforms. This study further

assumed that students pursue higher education at least in part to enhance their employability.

While learning for learnings sake may be the motivation for some, this study assumed the

primary reason for students pursuit of higher education to be the potential for employment.

Limitations

This study examined K-12 public education sector employers within Strafford County,

Pennsylvania. The research therein may not be generalizable to a larger population of employers.

Delimitations

Though still emerging as an educational delivery model, MOOCs already have multiple

variations. This study focused on the xMOOC.

Summary

The popularity of OERs and, in particular, MOOCs has caused many universities to

launch MOOC initiatives (Coursera, 2014). The effects of MOOCs on student outcomes are still

in question. Without credit or degrees, MOOC participants have little to show for their

attainment of new knowledge and skills, and the employability of these students is unclear. This

study sought to examine the perceptions of K-12 sector employers regarding MOOC learning.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 9

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Introduction of the Problem

In seeking to understand how MOOCs may offer new pathways to employment, it is

critical to understand how they are situated within the landscape of higher education. Since the

launch of Massachusetts Institute of Technologys (MIT) OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative in

2001, there have been varied claims of how OERs and MOOCs disrupt higher educations

instructional and business practices (Poyiadgi, 2014; Skiba, 2012; Yuan & Powell, 2013). Unlike

in the past, students can now access educational materials for free any time and from anywhere

with a high-speed Internet connection (Crow, 2013; Rhoads, Berden, & Toven-Lindsey, 2013).

In a similar vein, the notion of who the student is has evolved from a young adult sequestered on

a college campus to any web-connected individual wishing to learn more about a topic from

professors at universities worldwide (Wright & Reju, 2012).

OERs and MOOCs tend to cause confusion because there is not a singular definition of

either, although there are descriptive characteristics. Open educational resources are teaching,

learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain and have been

released under an open license that permits access, use, repurposing, reuse and redistribution by

others with no or limited restrictions (UNESCO & Commonwealth of Learning, 2011, p. v).

MOOCs, in general, are distinguished from other open resources in that they run at regular

intervals like semester-based courses, require enrollment for access, offer some form of online

instruction and, in many cases, a verification of completion for participants who successfully

complete all course activities (Chauhan, 2014; Maas et al, 2014; Pence, 2012). While MIT

arguably launched the open course movement (Paldy, 2013; Parry, 2009; Pence, 2012; Rhoads,

Berdan, Toven-Lindsey, 2013), it has been the variation of a MOOC that has caused institutions
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 10

to rethink business, pedagogical, and recognition practices (Pritchard, 2013; Skiba, 2012).

Although much of the literature reviewed can be applied to OERs in general, for the purpose of

this study, the focus will rest on MOOCs.

These potential disruptions to the world of higher education of how education is done and

who is educated have caused universities worldwide to offer MOOCs (Coursera, 2014; Schroder,

2012) and determine the value or level of sustainability later (Johansen & Wiley, 2011). IHEs

have long been accepted as a gateway to employment (Mazou, 2012; Rose, 2013), and part of

that preparation is the institutions recognition and credentialing of the students successful

completion of an academic program in the form of credit. On a small scale, that award of credit

is for a particular course; on a larger one, the accumulation of credits takes the form of a degree

from the offering institution for completion of the entire programessentially, what we know

today as going to college.

With the deployment of such open resources, MOOC-offering institutions have created

new types of learners who may or may not be recognized for their study (Parry, 2009). Myriad

ways of providing that recognition are presently being tested in MOOC projects (Dellarocas &

Van Alstyne, 2013; Downes, 2007; Laitinen, 2013; Raths, 2013), some through the offering IHE,

some not. While few would argue that learning for learnings sake is not a noble goal, the

absence of commonly accepted recognition of students open coursework leaves the lofty vision

of OER lacking:

Perhaps for the first time in history, it is possible to plausibly imagine a future where

everyone who has the desire to learn will also have the opportunity, regardless of their

personal circumstance. We can now envision a world where high quality educational
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 11

opportunities are widely available to both the wealthy and poor, in developing countries

as in developed countries. (Cecilia dOliveira, n.d., para. 2).

Making opportunities in higher education widely available provides students with access

to content, but it does not necessarily entail credit (Parry, 2009). Without formalized and widely

accepted recognition for learning, the ultimate outcomes for students learning through MOOCs

as a means to enhance their employment prospects are largely unknown. Three primary research

streams then converge: (a) the disruption of MOOCs, (b) employers perceptions of online

learning, and (c) credentialing for employment. First, the particular characteristics of MOOCs

that have caused this disruption will be explored. Second, perceptions of online learning will be

presented as they relate to employability. Last, the concept of credentialing as it pertains to

employment will be reviewed. The interrelatedness of these streams is displayed in Figure 1.

Employer
Perceptions of
Online
Learning

Employer
Perceptions
of
Credentialed
MOOC
Learning
The
Disruption
Credentialing
Caused by
MOOCs

Figure 1: Conceptual framework.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 12

The Disruption Caused by MOOCs

The concept of a disruptive innovation is attributed to Harvard professor Clayton

Chistensen and is described as one that transforms an existing market or sector by introducing

simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complication and high cost are the

status quo (Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, n.d., para. 2). When applied

to the higher education sector, MOOCs meet these requirements by offering an alternative to

traditional university campus-based degree programs through open access to the same

coursework at no cost. The high cost of attending college has excluded many from pursuing

higher education (Laitinen, 2013), and not all degrees or institutions are perceived equally

(Carnevale, 2007; Rivera, 2011), making MOOCs a potentially attractive option for higher

learning. MOOCs, however, are also varied, and, despite being a recent innovation, already have

a lengthy history and taxonomy.

History and Taxonomy

MOOCs follow the history of widespread distance learning initiatives like the Open

University in the United Kingdom and the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon

University (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014). More recently, the Massachusetts Institute of

Technology (MIT) launched its OpenCourseWare (OCW) project in the early 2000s and over the

next several years made its entire curriculum available for free online (MIT, 2014). MIT received

wide recognition for its efforts and incited other universities to follow suit with their own open

course initiatives (Johansen & Wiley, 2007). Still, the term MOOC was not used until 2008

following a course offered through the University of Manitoba by George Siemens and Stephen

Downes titled Connectivism and Connected Knowledge (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014). This course

was the first to offer uncredited but free enrollment to 2,300 student auditors (Downes, 2008).
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 13

Subsequently, universities around the world began experimenting with MOOCs, and platforms

like Coursera and edX began hosting MOOCs from multiple institutions and popularizing the

concept. The original MOOC method was connectivist in nature and oriented toward peer

learning and autonomy (Chauhan, 2014; Downes, 2008). Present courses embodying this model

are referred to as cMOOCs. cMOOCs employ peer learning as a principal strategy in participant

learning, modeled after massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) (Kong, Kwok, & Fang,

2012). Coursera, edX, and their counterparts, on the other hand, offer open enrollment, tuition-

free courses that more closely follow the traditional university model through the use of

instructor-developed video lectures and presentations and offer a more directed learning path for

participants (Hollands & Tirthali, 2014). These courses are considered extensions of the

sponsoring universitys programs and are, therefore, referred to as xMOOCs. Coursera, for

example, has provided a platform for multiple universities to offer their massive open online

courses in one place for students anywhere (Coursera, 2014b). Participating universities include

Stanford, Michigan, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Duke, and Johns Hopkins, among

many others (Lewin, 2012, para. 2). Given their nature as similar to but different from university

courses, xMOOCs serve as the basis of this study.

As more institutions began offering MOOCs and platforms became more abundant, the

potential for MOOCs to be a disruption grew clearer (Yuan & Powell, 2013). Unlike traditional

university models charging tuition for course credit, MOOCs have no direct capacity for

revenue. In order for MOOCs to be impactful, they first must be sustainable.

Practices in Open Course Sustainability

Olcott (2012) presents four main issues facing the field of open courses: (a) the blending

of open course initiatives with existing institutional management structures, (b) crediting, (c)
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 14

sustainability, and (d) awareness. The ultimate sustainability for MOOCs is yet to be determined.

Traditional, tuition-based courses produce revenue and offer students credits and degrees that

contribute to their employability. If MOOCs offered similar employability prospects for learners,

their financial sustainability could be justified by the alternate pathway to employment offered

by verified certificates for completion of MOOC learning.

The prevalence of sustainability and the contrast of open courses with existing IHE

structures are echoed by Wileys work for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and

Development (OECD) (2007). Wiley separated open course projects into three primary

classifications, named for the institutions that first launched them: MIT, Utah State University

(USU), and Rice University (RU) (see Table 1).

Table 1

Diversity of models employed by higher education open educational resource initiatives

MIT USU Rice

Course production All courses offered by Many courses offered Many courses offered

goals MIT by USU anywhere

Control over courses High degree of Small degree of Practically no control

produced control control

Cost per course USD 10,000 USD 5,000 USD 0

produced

Organisation size Large Medium Small

Note. Adapted from On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resource Initiatives in Higher

Education, p. 10, by Wiley, D., 2007, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 15

Wiley explains that MIT devotes significant funds to its OpenCourseWare project and

receives grants and private donations for its continued support. As such, he deems the MIT

model not to be replicable due to its massive scale and cost. The USU model sought to develop

as many courses as possible with available funding and a limited number of staff devoted to the

project full-time. Interestingly, USU ceased development of additional open courses in 2009 due

to sustainability issues (Parry, 2009). Rice, on the other hand, established its open content

presence in the form of Connexions (now called OpenStax), a platform for content developers

worldwide to build and offer content online. Connexions offered content in instructional modules

rather than through the conversion of Rices complete course catalog (Connexions, 2013a). In

essence, this form of OER is like the textbook equivalent of Wikipedia (Connexions,

2013b).

Johansen and Wiley (2011) make a poignant point regarding Brigham Young

Universitys open course project that summarizes much of the consternation experienced by IHE

OER proponents:

Open publishing programs at other universities have been primarily grant-funded, and

long-term sustainability has been a significant problem for these programs. BYU IS, on

the other hand, is supported by the tuition revenue its courses generate. It does not

receive financial support from the university, from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-

day Saints, from grants, or from any other external sources. (2011, p. 370)

Revenue is derived from tuition which, in turn, is derived from students enrollment in

university courses and programs. The exchange between student and university has been based

on monetary exchange for access to and crediting of learning (Mazou, 2012). What MOOCs do

is remove the financial barriers for access and credit: Anyone can have access, and no one gets
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 16

credit. This disruption of the revenue stream from tuition fees presents a sustainability problem

for MOOCs. Some IHEs offering MOOCs rely on grant funding for continued support and others

make the assumption that students who enroll in free MOOCs will ultimately enroll in additional

tuition-based courses in order to earn credit. Still others try to recoup MOOC development costs

through the volume of students paying assessment or verification fees in order to gain verified

completion certificates. Phelan (2012) addresses the sustainability question by outlining potential

alternative revenue possibilities for open course projects: (a) marketing and public relations tools

to enroll more students in full-tuition programs, (b) reduced cost programs in which students pay

for assessments as they progress through the course or program, and (c) a portfolio certification

system. These methods have been identified by others as significant potential means of

sustainability and will be outlined below.

Marketing tools. Using open content as a marketing tool is a wide practice in European

institutions as noted by Hammer (2013) and Izbicki (2013) with FutureLearn, Nikoi and

Armellini (2012) with University of Leicester (UL), and Schuwer and Mulder (2009) at the Open

University of the Netherlands (OUNL). European IHEs are more forthcoming about using

MOOCs as a means to enroll more students into full-tuition programs. The same practice occurs

in the U.S., however, in universities that offer open courses (Huijser, Bedford, & Bull, 2008).

While MIT states that its mission for OCW is to publish all of our course materials online

and make them widely available to everyone (Yue, n.d., para. 1), OCWs fringe benefit as a

marketing tool to ultimately turn open access students into full-freight tuition-paying students is

widely recognized (Pence, 2012; Phelan, 2012; Johansen & Wiley, 2011). In fact, Johansen and

Wiley (2011) determine the sustainability of Brigham Young Universitys OpenCourseWare


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 17

project based on the idea that open course students who do not receive credit end up enrolling in

a tuition-based course.

Reduced cost programs. Offering open courses on a fee-per-assessment basis holds

promise for reducing the cost of higher education as noted by Phelan (2012), Smith (2011), and

Parry (2009). Laitinen (2013) and Parry (2009) highlight the example of web-based Western

Governors University where competency-based education is the standard: students pay a

reduced tuition but advance through the program based on assessments of their knowledge, not

by a required number of courses. Smith (2011) presents an example from the for-profit university

realm in which course level assessments provide students and instructors feedback about the

students progression in meeting desired learning outcomes. In essence, these assessments seek

to provide students recognition for their learning as they progress through their educational

programs.

Portfolio certification. The notion of a student portfolio to compile evidence of an

individual students work products and samples, academic achievements, and field experiences is

not revolutionary, but Cooper and Sahami (2013), Parry (2009), Phelan (2012), and Schroeder

(2012) point to the Mozilla Open Badges project as a potential alternative to traditional

university credentialing. For participating organizations, Open Badges can be awarded to

students who demonstrate knowledge or skills learned through open courses (Raths, 2013). The

students receive a digital badge that can then be included as part of a rsum or curriculum vitae

(CV) providing potential employers a direct form of recognition of student learning and direct

access to view the students work that merited the badge. Phelan (2012) portrays an excellent

example of what Open Badges might look like in practice:


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 18

Students who have (1) learned using OER and (2) created a portfolio that demonstrates

achievement in a particular area would submit their portfolio for assessment to a qualified

assessor. For a minimal fee, the assessor would review the student portfolios. If the

portfolios were judged to demonstrate accomplishment, the students would be awarded a

digital badge certifying accomplishment in that area. However, the Mozilla experiment

goes a step further: the students could then attach the digital badge to their CV. As well

as trusting in the certification of learning represented by the digital badge, potential

employers reviewing the applicants CV could click on it to also see evidence of

accomplishment directly, that is, review the applicants portfolio for themselves. (Plotkin,

2011, p. 281)

Bell (2013) offers a more specific portrait of how learning by MOOCs could upend the existing

model of higher education degree recognition:

Imagine that in a year or two, or maybe three at the outside, a very bright high school

senior applies to and is accepted at a prestigious American university. She decides that

the tuition and time commitment required for four full years of her life spent on a campus

somewhere is really not worth it. She politely declines admission and then begins to

assemble a curriculum composed of the best MOOCs offered by the best experts in

various fields from humanities to social sciences to engineering or computer science.

(pp. 36-37)

Bell (2013) thus lays out the groundwork for how MOOCs may offer an alternative

pathway to the traditional model of tuition and campus-based degree programs but goes a step

further by hypothesizing how the student would utilize self-styled MOOC curriculum to pursue

employment:
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 19

[S]he applies for a job at a very prestigious American software or hardware company.

She argues that she has been recognized by one of the best universities in the country as

worthy of acceptance (and she produces the acceptance letter as proof), but she decided

to compose a curriculum of her own making, which perfectly fits the requirements for the

position the company has advertised. She is eventually hired, even though some of her

toughest competition in the applicant pool for the position she is seeking are candidates

who possess a degree from the very university she chose not to attend. (pp. 36-37)

Bells (2013) scenario is rooted in the potential future acceptability of verified MOOC

learning as a credential justifying employment. At present, awareness of MOOCs as a learning

medium is still a challenge, though data suggest some industries look to MOOCs for recruitment,

and some employers may view MOOC study as evidence of an inclination toward lifelong

learning (Poyiadgi, 2014; Radford et al, 2014). Poyiadgi (2014) draws a comparison to the

information technology (IT) field from the 1990s when corporations like Microsoft developed

certification pathways validating competency in their own products or platforms. Those

certifications became a standard for hiring within the IT field. If validated credentials for MOOC

learning follow the same path, similar employer acknowledgement could follow.

Intellectual Property and MOOCs

Another disruption posed by MOOCs to the traditional model of higher education is the

idea of intellectual property. Professors ownership of their work has historically been a disputed

topic (Domonell, 2013), but when MOOCs offer that work for free, the potential audience for

those instructors becomes, quite literally, massive. In an era of open courses, new concepts of

intellectual property emerge, and there is no single answer to the question of ownership, re-use,
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 20

or re-distribution. This section will describe developments in the area of intellectual property

rights as related to open coursework.

There are not yet universally-accepted definitions of OERs or MOOCs, but there are

characteristics that categorize them as open. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and

Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) try to provide

guidelines for these characteristics by stating that OERs are materials used to support education

that may be freely accessed, reused, modified, and shared (2011, p. v.). Performing these four

actions separates them from the traditional model of program delivery in higher education.

Students must pay tuition and (for brick-and-mortar programs) be geographically located near

the offering institution; materials developed by faculty or staff are typically the intellectual

property of either the university or the contributing faculty member and subject to laws

governing intellectual property rights.

Frantsvog (2012) and Olcott (2012) indicate that this conflict between open courses and

existing business practices in IHEs has created disruptive yet tenuous opportunities in and

amongst universities. When an institution embarks on an open course project, the resultant

course is usually registered with an open license as opposed to a traditional copyright. Frantsvog

(2012) outlines commonly used licensing structures for open educational resources as copyleft,

open source, and Creative Commons. Copyleft, as opposed to copyright, allows for the free use,

modification, and distribution of a copyleft-licensed work. However, these works are not in the

public domain, and, therefore, still fall under copyright law meaning that while anyone can use,

modify, and distribute the work, because of the copyright, no profit can be derived from it.

(Frantsvog, 2012). In other words, copyleft licensing allows for an end-user to take the work and

do anything with it, so long as they dont try to sell it. Open source licensing is applied to
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 21

software and allows for end users to use, modify, distribute, and profit from the work in question.

Open source licenses are designed to be more amenable to businesses as they do allow for

revenue generation. Frantsvog (2012) describes Creative Commons licensing as a blend

between open source licensing and copyleft (p. 20) that governs much of what we now term

open content. With a Creative Commons license, authors or producers can select rights they wish

to keep or relinquishattribution, restriction to non-commercial purposes, restriction of

derivative works, and what the organization terms as share-like, the stipulation that any

derivative work is released under the same license as the original (Frantsvog, 2012, p. 20).

This variation of intellectual property law has furthered the world of open content, but,

due to the limits of some forms of licensing, has restricted institutions of higher education from

profiting from open licenses. Alternatively, maintaining those rights the intellectual property

being owned by the authoring individual or institutiondefeats the purpose and mission of the

open content movement. Such ambiguous new ventures that distort the traditional view of who

owns knowledge and provides access to it have exacerbated IHEs determinations of if and how

they might sustain MOOC projects (Hawkridge, Armellini, Nikoi, Rowlett, & Witthaus, 2010;

Johansen & Wiley, 2011; Kamenetz, 2010; Nikoi & Armellini, 2012; Olcott, 2012; Paldy, 2013;

Rhoads, Berden, and Toven-Lindsey, 2013).

MOOCs registered under open content licenses prevent profit from being derived by re-

using open resources which traditional licensing would allow. The award of credit at a cost by

IHEs becomes even more important to maintaining revenues which, in turn, may cause IHEs to

more closely guard the award of credit as a means of preserving the recognition a degree

provides. Not all degrees are the same, however, and employers can perceive where and how

potential candidates pursued their educational paths with much scrutiny (Rivera, 2011).
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 22

Employers Perceptions of Online Learning

The popularity of online courses in U.S. institutions of higher education has steadily

increased since the early 2000s. As of 2013, 32% of higher education students take at least one

online course as part of their degree programs (Allen & Seaman, 2013). As online learning has

become more prevalent, learning outcomes have improved as well. Students in online courses

perform slightly better than those learning the same content in a face-to-face format (U.S.

Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, 2010). The

acceptability of online degree programs to an employer is still mixed, however. Over 40% of

academic leaders believe that a lack of employer acceptance is a barrier to the growth of online

education programs (Allen & Seaman, 2013).

Acceptability

Even with the growth of online courses and degrees at universities, employers continue to

question their equivalence to face-to-face programs. Adams and DeFleur (2006) found that

employers viewed both online and hybrid (part online, part face-to-face) models as suspect

unless the online university was selected with great care (p. 43). Siebold (2007) determined

that employers felt comfortable with online learning as a means of professional development but

did not see it as equal to a face-to-face learning experience. For-profit universities tend to be

viewed with more scrutiny than non-profit, and the level of experience the hiring manger has

with online learning has an impact of acceptability as well (Carnevale, 2007). Jeancolas (2011)

study with public accounting firms revealed that just 9% of employers surveyed would be willing

to recommend a candidate with an online degree for employment. In the field of public

education, online programs were perceived to require less work and to be of lower quality than

comparable face-to-face programs (Richardson, McLeod, & Dikkers, 2011). Alternatively, in a


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 23

cross-business sector study of employer perceptions of an online MBA, Bailey (2011) found

little difference in the acceptability of an online MBA compared to one attained face-to-face.

More specifically to MOOCs, Allen and Seaman (2013) note that academic leaders are

not concerned about MOOC instruction being accepted in the workplace, but do have concerns

that credentials for MOOC completion will cause confusion about higher education degrees (p.

3). MOOCs, though delivered online, are not the same as other online courses offered by

universities. The particular structures that differentiate teaching and learning in MOOCs from

other online courses may present further complications for evaluation by employers.

If MOOCs were to become acceptable as an alternative to traditional degree programs,

MOOC providers could regard this move as a new source of revenue and increase the costs

associated with earning a verified certificate. At present, Udacity may offer the closest

approximation of what a MOOC course of study would cost as compared to tuition-based degree

programs. In 2014, the company partnered with AT&T and the Georgia Institute of Technology

(GT) to offer a MOOC-based masters degree in computer science. The cost of the three

semester Udacity program is less than $7,000less than one third of the in-state tuition for the

campus-based program and one seventh the cost of the out-of-state tuition for the traditional

version (Wladawsky-Berger, 2013). While this partnership offering cannot be generalized to all

potential future MOOC-based degree programs, it may be indicative of a price compromise

between the openness of MOOC platforms and the cost of traditional, campus-based university

programs.

Teaching and Learning Practices in MOOCs

MOOCs, by their nature, present challenges to the process of teaching and learning and

complicate the question of how an employer might view an online course or degree experience.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 24

This section will present those challenges through the lens of the three namesake characteristics

of MOOCs massive, open, and onlineto illustrate difficulties in providing assessment or

recognition to MOOC participants. The concept of online learning presented in this section will

seek only to differentiate MOOCs from other online courses.

Massive. Unlike traditional face-to-face courses or even online courses, MOOCs have

the capacity to deliver a course to thousands of students at once (Pence, 2012). Pence points out

that the term massive is borrowed from the world of online gaming: a massively multiplayer

online game (MMOG) is one in which thousands or even millions or players may be online

playing the game at any given time. Players can compete or collaborate to perform game tasks in

order to earn game credit, in the form of money or experience within the game. As tasks are

completed, players move to higher levels of achievement (Kong, Kwok, & Fang, 2012). Some

MOOCs attempt to mirror this network of social learning in the MMOG by having other students

lead discussions or participate in peer review of assignments. In some cases, this can look like

an extremely large lecture hall class begging the question of what, if anything, is disruptive or

innovative about the practice (Pence, 2012).

Assessment of learning becomes more difficult with thousands of participants, and those

students who complete all assignments and assessments satisfactorily are few (Ho et al, 2014). In

some MOOCs, these assessments directly evaluate the students ability to perform tasks with

newly acquired skills or knowledge. However, those assessments may be graded by computer or

by peers (Chauhan, 2014). Despite research that shows peer grading to be within 5-10% of

faculty or staff grading (Kulkarni, Wei, Le, Chia, Papadopoulos, Cheng, & Klemmer, 2013),

employers may not feel comfortable with a course in which a potential job candidate received

credit through only peer or machine assessment.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 25

Individuals who do complete MOOC course work may pay a fee for a verified certificate

(Coursera, 2014d; edX, 2014a). These certificates do not equate to credit or a grade, unless

deemed so by a credit-granting institution, and may not offer detail as to the quality of the

students performance, only completion. For example, for an edX Certificate of Mastery,

students must watch the videos and successfully fulfill the requirements, per the course

syllabus (edX, 2014a). In order to receive MOOC verified certificates or specializations,

students typically must demonstrate their mastery of learned content through quizzes or

culminating projects (Coursera, 2014d; edX, 2014a). Verified certificates will be discussed

further throughout this chapter.

Open. The open nature of MOOCs is perhaps the easiest to understand but most difficult

to incorporate into a business model geared toward sustainability for MOOC providers or toward

job skills for employers. Many scholars point to the zero-cost, zero-pressure environment that

defines the openness of MOOCs as being the main force that attracts thousands to individual

courses (Cooper & Sahami, 2013; Kamenetz, 2010; Olcott, 2012; Pence, 2012; Taylor &

MacKintosh, 2011). Some contend, however, that the openness of MOOCs is only possible as a

marketing tool for regular, tuition-based courses (Izbicki, 2013; Nikoi & Armellini, 2012;

Schuwer & Mulder, 2009; Wiley, 2009). Typically, an open course is offered at specified

intervals much like a traditional college course, but the completion of the course activities or

assessments is left up to the internal motivation of the student, as evidenced by Parry (2009) and

Wiley (2010). There is not typically a credit fee for enrolling in a course unless the offering

organization or institution has an agreement with a crediting entity to do so. In keeping with the

idea of providing access to those who might otherwise not be able to enroll in the regular course,

MOOC verification fees are substantially less than regular course tuition the same student would
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 26

pay if taking the course as part of a full academic program at the universitys campus. From the

employer perspective, openness may indeed provide a larger applicant pool due to decreased

financial investment, but there is a question as to whether employers will perceive MOOC

students as having the same intellectual investment in their education as traditional university

students.

Online. The concept of an online course is well-known by IHEs today. A decade ago,

traditional universities sought to combat for-profit online universities by developing their own

online courses (Smith, 2011). Since MIT launched OpenCourseWare, however, IHEs have seen

less competition from for-profit institutions and more from those offering MOOCs (Blumenstyk,

2013). Seemingly a simple endeavor, translating an online course to an open online course can

cost thousands or even millions (Rhoads, Berdan, &Toven-Lindsey, 2013), depending on the

type and extent of learning activities used therein. Some models involve faculty members as

instructors (Hawkridge, Armellini, Nikoi, Rowlett, & Witthaus, 2010) working primarily in

advance of the launch of the course to record video lectures or work with instructional designers

to develop appropriate resources and activities for the online environment. In other cases, there

is no human instructor, and, instead, open courses utilize learning analytics, as noted by Johansen

and Wiley (2011) and Mazou (2012). Cooper and Sahami (2013) explain analytics as having

the potential to predict student performance and personalize presentations and learning

approaches based on student preference and performance, all without the need of a live

instructor. Ultimately, Mazou (2012) and Olcott (2012) indicate that, with or without human

instruction, MOOCs, OERs, and online courses, in general, necessitate pedagogical approaches

unique to the online environment, some of which may improve teaching and learning, some of

which may simply be a weaker substitute.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 27

While the merits of MOOCs and perceptions of online education, in general, are

debatable, the necessity of MOOCs to offer some form of credential for their future relevance is

not. Mazou (2012) summarizes it succinctly: Whoever first figures out how to fashion entire

accredited programs out of course exemplars and host them online will have an enormous

advantage in both quality and scalability. The fusion of online course exemplars with

accreditation will be a lethal combination (p. 92).

Credentialing

The issue of credentialing is a primary concern for the future of MOOCs and plays a

large role in employment. From an academic perspective, credentialing refers to the award of

recognition for mastery of pre-determined knowledge and skill sets, usually in the form of

credits, degrees, or certificates. The Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) (2006) provides

the following definition of credentialing:

The umbrella term that includes the concepts of accreditation, licensure, registration, and

professional certification. Credentialing can establish criteria for fairness, quality,

competence, and/or safety for professional services provided by authorized individuals,

for products, or for educational endeavors. Credentialing is the process by which an

entity, authorized and qualified to do so, grants formal recognition to, or records the

recognition status of individuals, organizations, institutions, programs, processes,

services, or products that meet predetermined and standardized criteria. (p. 7)

Of particular interest to the world of MOOCs is certification, through which

organizations like Coursera and edX are verifying students efforts. ICE (2006) defines

certification as a process, often voluntary, by which individuals who have demonstrated the

level of knowledge and skill required in the profession, occupation, role, or skill are identified to
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 28

the public and other stakeholders (p 6). Certificates have been used by job-seekers as an

alternative to degrees in the Information Technology field for years, but those have been

centered on the candidates mastery of specific technology platforms, programming languages,

or applications (Poyiadgi, 2014).

Students pursuing higher learning through MOOCs may elect to receive a verified

certificate of completion or specialization from the provider (e.g., Coursera, edX) that attests to

their demonstration of mastery of the content. Verified certificates and specializations will be

further addressed in this chapter when current methods of MOOC credentialing are presented.

These verified certificates, however, are not equivalent to the sponsoring universitys award of

credit for the same course or series of courses taken on campus or online in a tuition-based

format. The question posed by MOOC learning is whether that university credit is the necessary

credential to gain successful employment or is it the learning that can be gained through MOOC

study (Youngman, 2013). While there is evidence of the overall long-term monetary value of a

college degree (Beaver, 2009; Rose, 2013), data surrounding the relationship of long-term career

earnings of individuals with degrees compared to those with similar skills but no degrees are

difficult to determine (Rose, 2013).

Background

The credential of the university degree is a common entryway into employment (Beaver,

2009), but there is variation of opinion as to whether the degree is significant because of the

knowledge and skills it represents or whether the knowledge and skills are separate from the

degree. Bergs (1971) research into how employers view degrees asserted that the degrees of

employees were largely unrelated to the competencies needed for their jobs but, instead,

categorized candidates more easily into hires, potential hires, and no-hires. Rosenbaum and
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 29

Binder (1997) furthered this insight by noting that many managers hired candidates whom they

thought had good potential for future promotion, even though they may not have credentials

related to the position for which they were hired. Beaver (2009) explains that, historically, there

were fewer fields with any sort of college degree required. In the 1970s and 80s, in an effort to

fight dwindling enrollments, universities and colleges began creating new degree programs for

fields in which degrees werent required. Beaver offers the example of a degree in office

management for someone who wants to pursue a role as an administrative assistant. As

enrollments in these programs grew, so did the concept of the necessity of a college degree,

regardless of the field a student would pursue.

Laitinen (2013) re-traces the history of how degrees are defined. In the early years of the

20th century, the Carnegie Unit was developed as an admissions measure for entering college

freshmen, required for colleges to participate in a free pension system for professors offered by

the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In turn, colleges adopted the

Carnegie Unit as method to determine faculty workload thresholds, which were also required for

participation in the pension program. A minimum of 12 Carnegie Units per semester became the

established concept for full-time faculty members resulting in the creation of modern degree

programs. Interestingly, Laitinen (2013) notes that the fundamental criterion [of the Carnegie

Unit] was the amount of time spent on a subject, not the results attained (p. 64), thus reinforcing

the idea that modern degree programs are fundamentally based on seat time and not on student

learning.

For employers, the perceptions of a degree compared to the skills and abilities of the

candidate are not clear. Cai (2012) portrays the problem through two opposing theoretical

frameworks, (a) human capital theory and (b) job market signaling theory. Human capital theory
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 30

sees education as a means for job-seekers to increase their skills and abilities which, in the end,

returns as productivity for organizations (Becker, 1962). Signaling theory, on the other hand,

sees specific educational credentials as being a sign for employers that a job-seeker has the

talents necessary for a position within the organization (Spence, 1973). Educational credentials

serve as a tool by which candidates can indicate to potential employers that they have the

requisite skills and abilities for success.

The debate between the two theories has implications for employers screening and hiring

processes, particularly when assessing MOOC credentials against credits or degrees. As Weiss

(1995) notes, [F]irms use education choices to draw inferences about unobserved attributes (p.

135). These inferences take on particular importance when potential employees have an

abundance of higher education options open to them, including MOOCs. This plethora of options

may flood the job-seeker market with degreed candidates, ultimately devaluing the credentials

obtained by the candidates (Hansen, 2011). Corbett (2013) elaborates on this devaluation:

Degrees from many universities are losing their signaling value to employers, casting the

value of all degrees that are not issued from national brands into doubt. Whether the two-

tier system toward which current policies tend persists decades from now or the lower tier

disintegrates as its diminished value becomes manifest, there will not exist a system of

higher education that provides opportunities to people that their parents did not enjoy.

(Corbett, 2013, p. 216)

Hansen (2011) connects this idea of a two-tier system with signaling theory by observing

that not all signals are equal (p. 47). Employers may value some credentials more than others

(Rivera, 2011) despite the fact that a degree regardless of where it comes fromoffers the

required signal. Weiss (1995) frames this critique of signaling from the employers perspective
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 31

by indicating that if unobserved differences were important, firms would test for them directly,

or workers would test themselves (p. 145). In business, Hussey (2012) found that a Masters of

Business Administration (MBA) degree does demonstrate some signaling theory properties but

the value of that signal decreased as the amount of experience possessed by the candidate prior to

completing the degree increased (Hussey, 2012). In other words, the signaling effects of the

MBA are dampened with increased levels of experience, but the MBA will offer added

perceptual value to a candidate with less experience. In fields like Information Technology,

potential workers may, in fact, test themselves (Weiss, 1995, p. 145) through the attainment of

platform or application-based credentials frequently sought after by employers (Poyiadgi, 2014).

The IT field may offer additional means by which job seekers can signal their worth beyond the

credential of a degree. In their research surrounding copyright-free open source software (OSS)

licensing compared to the more limited GNU public licensing (GPL), Atal and Shankar (2015)

found that much depended on the market itself. In environments where there were large numbers

of software users, developers more often chose to list their own independently-developed

software under the OSS license to publicly signal their capacity for development whereas in

markets with fewer numbers of users where developers chose the more restrictive GPL licensing

because of decreased reputational benefits (Atal & Shankar, 2015).

A students completion of MOOC study alone may be reflective of the human capital

perspective, but any potential certificate earned by the MOOC student would add value to the

signaling theory view. Whether or not MOOC learning or associated certificates hold value for

employers from either perspective remains in question. Even within this question there is more

variation: Not all MOOCs or universities offering those MOOCs are the same. While seemingly

simplistic in nature, this element takes on elevated meaning from the employers perspective.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 32

Employers Perceptions of Educational Credentials

In what appears to be movement favoring MOOC study for purposes of employability,

Andrew Ng, the co-founder of Coursera, has stated that faced with a shortage of engineering

talent, many tech companies have already asked for introductions to students who successfully

completed his online course (Chea, 2012, para. 19). Embedded in his comment, however, are

two factors impacting how employers perceive educational credentialsprestige and familiarity.

Ng, though now famous for his role at Coursera, also serves as an Associate Professor of

Computer Science at Stanford University. U.S. News and World Report (2014) ranks Stanford

among the best universities in the country, and the specific university attended by a job candidate

has been shown to impact employers decisions (Rivera, 2011). Rivera (2011) found in her study

of elite employers use of educational credentials that only four universities were considered to

be acceptable for gaining an interview based on undergraduate degreeHarvard, Princeton,

Yale, and Stanford. Furthermore, she learned that it was not the program of study or instruction

that mattered; rather, it was the strong cultural meanings and character judgments evaluators

attributed to admission and enrollment at an elite school (Rivera, 2011, p. 78). This judgment

would contribute to the signaling theory view of the credential representing a candidates ability

rather than the education itself. For MOOCs, it could offer reinforcement for their use as a

means to improve employability prospects, so long as the MOOCs in question were from top-tier

universities. Rivera (2011) also noted that while prestige was the first factor influencing elite

employers hiring decisions, the second factor was extracurricular activities because they serve

as a certification of a candidates underlying social and moral character (p. 82).

This emphasis is supported by the work of Cole, Rubin, Field and Giles (2007) who

looked at recruiters use of three categories of information on resumes when making hiring
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 33

decisionswork experience, academic qualifications, and extracurricular activities. They found

that, while recruiters ranked work experience as the most important followed by academic

preparation and then extracurriculars, only extracurricular activities had a positive correlation

with ultimate employability. The researchers consider this evidence that employers may claim

certain qualifications to be most important but use alternate criteria for making an ultimate hiring

decision.

Furthering this discrepancy between the stated and the actualized criteria for

employability, Thornburghs (2014) study of employment decisions in the field of product

engineering found that employers establish criteria in job descriptions and postings that are

evidence-based, such as specific skills or familiarity with software applications. However, the

same employers then utilize non-evidence-based criteriasuch as a degree or a degree from a

particular institutionas the basis for the hiring decision. Thornburgh (2014) concludes that this

misalignment may prevent qualified candidates from applying for positions who adequately

match the particular skills sets employers seek.

While traditional university degrees still represent the standard gateway to employment,

many employers make hiring decisions reflective of other factors (Cole, Rubin, Field & Giles,

2007; Rivera, 2011; Thornburgh, 2014). MOOCs may offer the potential for students to

demonstrate how their skills and abilities specifically align to employers needs (Bell, 2013;

Bonvillian & Singer, 2013) if verified MOOC study is acknowledged similarly to the attainment

of a university degree. Referring back to Bells (2013) scenario of how MOOCs could lead to

employment, a MOOC students evidence of admission to a traditional university program could

provide hiring managers sufficient evidence of the students ability, consistent with Rivera

(2011). However, employers will first need a method by which to evaluate any recognition
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 34

earned through MOOC study. The following section explores current practices in MOOC

credentialing.

Current Methods of MOOC Credentialing

Institutions offering open content have begun to recognize the need to offer alternative

credit systems for the completion of open coursework and distinguish them from traditional on-

campus programs of study. In the still nascent field of MOOC development, scholars present

multiple ways of classifying open education projects and challenges, largely aligned to

sustainability and crediting practices.

Third party credit. One potential model for credit-granting has emerged through the

American Council on Education (ACE). ACE advises colleges and universities on a number of

issues, credit recommendation being one (American Council on Education, 2013). As of 2013,

ACE has recommended five courses offered through Courseras platform as credit-worthy for

their 1,800 member institutions. The courses are (a) Algebra from the University of California

Irvine, (b) Pre-Calculus, also from the University of California Irvine, (c) Introduction to

Genetics and Evolution from Duke University, (d) Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach, also

from Duke University, and (e) Calculus: Single Variable from the University of Pennsylvania

(Kolowich, 2013). The ACE recommendation does not require member colleges to recognize

student completion of the approved MOOCs nor does it suggest any recognition granted would

be free. It does, however, expand on Phelans (2012) portfolio certification concept and allow for

the future possibility of a student completing portions of a degree program from a wide variety of

institutions without ever being enrolled in a single university.

San Jose State University (SJSU) provided another example of an IHE offering

undergraduate math classes through Udacitys platform at a substantially reduced rate compared
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 35

to on campus tuition. These Udacity courses were open to anyone and issued SJSU credit at a

reduced rate. The partnership, termed SJSU Plus, began in January 2013 and, after experiencing

lower pass rates than the comparable on campus courses, ended in December 2013. The courses

are now available as regular tuition online or blended offerings at SJSU or through Udacity for

free but without an option for SJSU credit (Straumsheim, 2013).

Verified certificates. Both Coursera and edX offer the credential referred to as the

verified certificate for which students pay a fee typically ranging from $49-$150 per course. If

they complete the course and accompanying assessments satisfactorily, students earn a Verified

Certificate. Certificates are issued by Coursera and its partner institutions but enrollment in

Coursera courses does not include institutional credit or enrollment at the partner institutions

(Coursera, 2014d). edX offers the same type of arrangement for verified certificates and the

XSeries which attests to a students completion of a series of related MOOCs from a particular

institution (edX, 2014a). Coursera offers a similar path referred to as a Specialization

certificate (Coursera, 2014d). In addition to the fee, both Coursera and edX require identity

verification in order to receive the verified certificates.

Udacity is a platform that specializes in technology-based courses and distinguishes itself

from Coursera and edX by partnering with technology companies like Google, Facebook, and

Twitter to develop courses (Udacity, 2015). Many of these courses are sequenced to construct a

nanodegree, similar to the Specializations or XSeries offered on Coursera or edX, respectively.

Udacitys nanodegrees are offered on a monthly subscription basis at a rate of $200-$300 per

month (Udacity, 2015). Each nanodegree offers a generalized timeframe ranging from several

weeks to 12 months that provides potential students guidance as to how long it may take to

complete the program given 10 hours per week spent on the courses. The platform is particularly
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 36

notable because Georgia Tech partnered with AT&T and Udacity to launch a low-cost, MOOC-

based masters program in Computer Science in 2014 (Udacity, 2014).

As an example of how verified certificates and specializations work, the University of

California, Irvine (UCI) offers the Virtual Teacher Program through Coursera (Coursera, 2014f).

This program is a four-course sequence with each course lasting five weeks and is designed to

prepare K-12 teachers to teach in online or blended classrooms. The four courses are

Foundations of Virtual Instruction, Emerging Trends and Technologies in the Virtual K-12

Classroom, Advanced Instructional Strategies in the Virtual Classroom, and Performance

Assessment in the Virtual Classroom. The program culminates in a capstone project which lasts

three weeks and requires separate registration. Participants may select the Verified Certificate

option at a rate of $49 per course and $39 for the culminating project or a grand total of $235.

After paying the fees and successfully completing the courses and the project, participants

receive a Specialization Certificate for the Virtual Teacher Program from Coursera and UCI.

However, as noted in the terms of use (Coursera, 2014e), these courses and the specialization do

not provide university credit nor do they enroll the participant in any university program.

Prior learning assessment. Prior learning assessment (PLA) is a portfolio-driven

process in which students assemble a collection of their own learning experiences surrounding a

topic or concept and provides it to an authorized evaluator who makes an assessment of the value

of the PLA toward course or program requirements (Conrad, 2013). The evaluator may be an

organization such as the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) who specializes in

prior learning assessment. The evaluator could approve the PLA for a certain number of credits

which the student could then bring to a university and request application of those credits to

corresponding degree programs (CAEL, 2014).


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 37

Prior learning assessment may also be completed through examination such as the

College Level Examination Program (CLEP) offered by the College Board. CLEP assessments

are provided in more than 1,800 testing centers and are accepted by over 2,900 colleges and

universities (College Board, 2015a). CLEP offers 33 exams at a cost of $80 each (College Board,

2015b). PLA and CLEP are eligible for university credit from accepting institutions, but it should

be noted that IHEs may charge per credit fees on top of any assessment costs incurred by

students for completing PLA or CLEP.

Digital badges. Digital badges offer the potential for students who complete a MOOC to

embed an icon signifying their accomplishment on a personal website, a social networking

profile, digital resume, or on a specific badge platform like Mozilla backpack (Raths, 2013). The

professional social networking platform LinkedIn partnered with Coursera, edX, Udacity and

other online learning providers in 2013 to allow LinkedIn users to display online courses theyve

completed as part of their online professional profile (Hepler, 2013). Badges can be linked to

specific coursework or projects completed by the student, so potential employers would have the

ability to evaluate the specific work product a job candidate may be able to offer (Raths, 2013).

Many IHEs have implemented badging initiatives as a digital means of recognizing student

work: The following examples provide a sampling of how badging systems are being utilized at

some of these IHEs. Purdue University offers Passport, a badging platform linked to student

attainment of specific course activities or objectives that integrates with Mozilla Backpack,

LinkedIn, and Facebook (Purdue University, 2015). Longwood Universitys badging platform

centers around the university-sponsored MOOC 5 Skills You Need To Succeed: What

Employers Want You to Know (Longwood University, 2015). Participants must complete

course quests to earn badges which are required in order to finish the course (Longwood
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 38

University, 2015). As part of its Third Century Initiative, the University of Michigan

developed a badging infrastructure to recognize the numerous learning opportunities and

outcomes achieved outside of traditional coursework (University of Michigan, 2015, para. 2).

Summary

MOOCs have presented new realities to the world of higher education (Bell, 2013). In the

past, universities had a monopoly of sorts on access to information (Paldy, 2013; Pence, 2012;

Smith, 2011). Furthermore, with ever-increasing costs for higher education, students may choose

a lower-cost MOOC route rather than an on-campus one if the students needs are met. If those

needs relate to employability, MOOC students have reported career benefits from their

coursework, ranging from tangible benefits such as a pay increase to intangible ones such as an

enhanced skill set (Zhenghao et al., 2015). If the student pursues MOOC study for enhanced

employability, then the difference amounts to the importance of credit or degree programs to

employers. While MIT may be lauded or blamed, depending on the perspective, for the

beginning of the OER movement, it still does not provide free credit for students completing

OCW courses.

MOOCs may amount to a similar credential as university credit or they may be perceived

as only a helpful extracurricular activity. After all, motivation must be intrinsic for MOOC

students in order to reach completion (Kong, Kwok, & Fang, 2012; Taylor & MacKintosh,

2011). Learning analytics and instructor feedback may provide some indication of student

learning in MOOC environments (Duin, 2011), but acceptable verification of certificate

completion will be necessary for employers. Thus, the three research streams of disruption,

employer perceptions of online learning, and credentialing converge to raise the primary
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 39

question of how employers perceive MOOC learning. The following section will present specific

methodology used in answering this overarching question and sub-questions.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 40

Chapter 3: Research Methodology

Introduction

The purpose of this study was to examine the perceptions of MOOC learning from the

perspective of potential employers. Of particular interest was the prospect of employability based

on MOOC learning rather than on traditional university course or degree programming. MOOCs

boast a low completion rate, ranging as low as 4% (Ho et al, 2014) to as high as 15% on average

(Waldrop, 2013), and only a subset of those students select the option of a verified certificate of

completion for completing all course activities (Coursera, 2014a). These verified certificates,

though being an authentication of the students work in completing course activities offered by

an institution of higher education, do not amount to university credit. Accumulated credits in the

form of degree programs embody a students knowledge base and serve as a common language

of entry into many occupations. MOOC learning represents a new commodity of sorts, and its

acceptance by employers as a form of entry into a field of practice is unclear.

The focus for this study was the field of K-12 public education. With its variety of roles

that encompass disciplines as diverse as education, management, information technology, and

human resources, among dozens of others, K-12 serves as a microcosm of society as a whole.

Within the targeted population, the researcher gained perspectives surrounding credentialed

MOOC learning across three sub-fields within the K-12 sector: Business and Management,

Education, and Information Technology. This chapter describes the specific research

methodology in further detail. The site and population studied will be outlined followed by

research design, rationale, and methods. Finally, ethical considerations specific to this study will

be presented.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 41

Site and Population

Population Description

The target population of this study was a purposive sampling of public school district

representatives responsible for hiring decisions in Strafford County, Pennsylvania. Because

hiring decisions may be a collaborative effort among cross-functional teams, it was anticipated

that participants will hold central office or other administrative, leadership roles within their

educational settings. The goal of studying this population was to gain an idea of educational

administrators perceptions of MOOC credentials as potential employers of MOOC students. For

this study, only personnel representing the 15 public school districts located within Strafford

County were targeted.

The number of participants targeted in this study was 265 web-based survey respondents

and 15 individual interviewees. While the K-12 field is home to a wide variety of job categories,

for this study, the researcher sought employer perceptions of employment candidates prepared in

the following fields: (a) Business and Management, (b) Education, and (c) Information

Technology. These three categories were selected because they serve as three distinct sub-fields

within the K-12 sector. Many other sub-fields exist within the K-12 sector; however, due to time

constraints for this study, the researcher selected only these three. While each school systems

job titles and functions may vary, it is possible to provide examples of the types of jobs or job

functions that could be included under each broad heading. These lists are not exhaustive and

intended only to provide a framework for the sub-fields that serve as the focus of this study.

Examples under the category of Business and Management are business manager, accounts

receivable, accounts payable, payroll specialist, and accountant. Examples for the category of

Education are teacher, principal, curriculum specialist/coordinator, librarian, educational


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 42

specialist, and teacher aide. For Information Technology, examples could include technology

director, network administrator, programmer, and application developer.

Site Description

As participants represented multiple public school entities, there was no specific site for

this study. Participants contacted for interviews were offered a site of their choosing based on

their convenience and preference. The researchers workplace is an educational services agency

designed to serve professionals from any educational entity and is, therefore, not directly

associated with hiring practices in any other entity and served as a neutral meeting space for

interviewees. Phone or online interviews were offered as options as well.

Site Access

With no specific site, access was based on participants willingness to be involved in the

study. In the case of utilizing the researchers workplace as a location for interviews, no access

restrictions were anticipated. The researchers role at an education services agency provided

access to email contact information for public school entity representatives who may be

responsible for hiring decisions in the form of distribution lists. While these lists were compiled

through the agency, email contact information for public educational entity representatives is

also made feely available to the public, and no restriction on access to these lists was anticipated.

Research Design and Rationale

This study employed both quantitative and qualitative methods in a convergent parallel

design. The convergent design was chosen because both quantitative and qualitative methods

could offer perceptual data from potential employers. Both methods were utilized in the same

phase of research, analyzed separately, and then merged to determine how each set converged or

diverged with the other respectively (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). The researcher then
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 43

interpreted resultant data from both methods in order to explore how MOOC credentials are

perceived with respect to employability within the targeted population.

A web-based survey (see Appendix A) was sent to distribution lists of public school

entity representatives responsible for hiring decisions. The purpose of the survey was to gain

quantitative data surrounding respondents familiarity with MOOCs, perceived advantages and

disadvantages, and possible applications of MOOC learning to support candidate employability.

Human resource directors from the 15 public school districts in Strafford County were targeted

for interviews (see Appendix B) since their perspectives offered the most salient information to

surrounding the relevance of MOOCs to employability. Similar to Radford et al. (2014), the

researcher sought data regarding the potential acceptability of MOOC learning across disciplines.

Unlike the work of Radford and her colleagues, this study explored different job categories

within only one fieldK-12 public education.

The rationale for this study lies in the emergence of MOOCs as a purported disruption

(Yuan & Powell, 2013) to the world of higher education. Little data on the impact of MOOCs on

student outcomes is available, and the potential of MOOCs as a career development strategy

ultimately rests on the views of employers. Through the collection of hiring representatives

perspectives of the employability of MOOC participants, findings would emerge to either (a)

support the idea that MOOCs do, in fact, offer an alternative pathway to pursuing higher

education for the purpose of employment in the field of K-12 education or (b) reaffirm the

existing paradigm of the value of institutional credit as the signal that permits entry into

employment.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 44

Research Methods

Introduction

To explore K-12 employer perceptions regarding the career development potential of

MOOCs, web-based survey data and semi-structured interviews were used as data collection

methods in this study. Both methods held equal priority to understanding participants

perceptions and neither depended on the others results (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). The

researcher felt there was equal value for collecting and analyzing both quantitative and

qualitative data to understand the problem (Creswell, 2012, p. 77), so a convergent parallel

design was employed. Participants targeted for surveys and interviews were limited to those

responsible for hiring decisions in the three identified sub-fields of Business and Management,

Education, and Information Technology within the 15 public school districts in Strafford County,

Pennsylvania.

Stages of Data Collection

A web-based survey was used concurrently with interviews to form the components of

the convergent parallel design in this study. The web-based survey was developed through

Google forms and focused on the gathering of quantitative data regarding perceptions of MOOC

learning of public school entity representatives responsible for hiring decisions. Human Resource

Directors from the 15 public school districts within the county were targeted for semi-structured

interviews.

Description of Method

Web-based survey. The web-based survey for this study was developed through Google

forms and housed in a password protected folder, the data from which was accessible only by the

researcher. The survey included 41 items geared toward gaining a quantitative perspective of
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 45

MOOC learning held by public school entity hiring representatives. In addition to demographic

data, this survey focused on participants level of awareness of MOOCs and MOOC credentials

and perspectives of acceptability of MOOC credentials for roles in the three sub-fields. Prior to

completing the survey, each potential respondent was provided an informed consent form. The

informed consent form informed them of the purpose of the study and included an assurance of

the confidentiality of their data and how they could withdraw consent if so desired. Contact

information for the researcher was provided so participants could request to see their individual

data.

The survey was sent to email distribution lists compiled by the researcher of public

school entity representatives potentially responsible for hiring decisions within the 15 public

school districts within Strafford County. Distribution lists are maintained by the researchers

employer, though each individual email address may be found on the corresponding school

districts website. The total number of individual email addresses on the compiled distribution

lists was 265.

Roles targeted for the survey included a variety of building level and central office

administrators. While specific titles may vary across entities, roles surveyed in this study

included school principals and assistant principals, human resources directors, business

managers, technology directors, curriculum directors, pupil services directors, and

Superintendents and Assistant Superintendents. The survey remained open for a 10-week period.

Upon completion of the data collection period, web-based surveys were analyzed through

tabulation of the descriptive statistics for the sample.

Interviews. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the 15 Human Resources

Directors from the public school districts within Strafford County. The Directors were invited to
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 46

participate first via introductory email and, if requested, by a brief phone conversation explaining

the purpose of the study and addressing questions or concerns on the parts of participants. Those

Human Resource Directors expressing an interest in participation were provided an informed

consent form indicating the purpose of the study, assuring the confidentiality of their responses,

and offering means by which they could withdraw consent. Contact information for the

researcher was provided so participants could request to see their individual data. Interviews

were scheduled for 45 minutes at a convenient time and location for each participant.

Interviews were held over the same 10-week period as the web-based survey. Each

interview was recorded, transcribed, and coded for themes. The researcher engaged in open

coding of interview data to establish major thematic categories. This process continued with each

successive interview through constant comparative coding (Charmaz, 2006) to result in the

emergence of core phenomena and major axial codes.

Convergence and Divergence

Data sets were collected concurrently but separately prior to analysis. In the analysis

phase of this study, survey data were analyzed through tabulation of descriptive statistics, and

interview data were coded to establish major thematic categories. Data sets were then compared

in order to determine areas of convergence and divergence to generate overall employer

perceptions of MOOC learning within K-12 public school districts in Strafford County. Areas of

convergence and divergence will be presented in the Findings, Results, and Interpretations

section of Chapter 4.

Ethical Considerations

Appropriate ethical considerations were followed for this study including full disclosure

of the purpose and nature of the study and respect for the confidentiality of participants
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 47

individual and organizational identities. Signed informed consent documentation for this study

was deemed unnecessary by the institutional review board based on the fact that the signed

documentation would be the only identifier of participants. Participants were also given contact

information for the researcher should they subsequently decide not to have their interview data

included in the study. To protect participants confidentiality, the researcher developed a coding

system for tracking participant data. Names of individuals and organizations were maintained in

a password protected folder and pseudonyms used when relating specific findings from the data

collection phase of the study.

Summary

This study utilized a web-based survey and interviews to explore employer perceptions of

MOOC learning within K-12 public education in Strafford County, Pennsylvania in a convergent

parallel design. Participants included educational administrators representing the 15 public

school districts within the specified region. Within the field of K-12, perceptions related to the

following job functions were explored: Business and Management, Education, and Information

Technology.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 48

Chapter 4: Findings, Results, and Interpretations

Introduction

The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of potential employers in the K-

12 sector as to the benefits of MOOC learning by potential employees with an emphasis on the

three sub-fields of Business and Management, Education, and Information Technology. While

data exist to illustrate the demographics of MOOC participants (Emmanuel, 2013) and low

completion rates (Ho et al., 2014), less is known regarding the employability outcomes of

MOOC students who earn verified certificates. To move toward a better understanding of the

place MOOCs occupy in a higher learning ecosystem, the researcher sought to answer the

following overarching question and sub-questions:

I. How do K-12 public education employers perceive MOOC learning?

A. Under what circumstances would credentialed MOOC learning lead to

employment?

B. What are the differences in perceptions of credentialed MOOC learning across the

three sub-fields of Business and Management, Education, and Information

Technology?

C. What are employers perceived benefits and drawbacks of MOOC learning?

D. What place do MOOCs occupy in a candidates preparedness for employment?

This study employed a mixed methods, convergent parallel design. Web-based surveys

and interviews were utilized to collect quantitative and qualitative data, respectively. In addition

to demographic data, survey participants were asked about their perceptions of MOOC learning

through statements of agreement on a five point scale ranging from disagree strongly (1) to

agree strongly (5). Responses from the 41 question web-based survey were uploaded into
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 49

SPSS for analysis. Descriptive statistics including crosstabulations were run to provide a partial

basis for overall findings of this study. To complement survey data, the researcher conducted

semi-structured interviews with Human Resources Directors to identify themes leading to an

answer of how K-12 employers perceive MOOC learning. As Directors portrayed their hiring

processes and offered perspectives of MOOC learning, credentialing, and online learning, themes

emerged which the researcher categorized into preliminary codes through constant comparative

coding. At the conclusion of the data collection phase, interviews were again analysed for

thematic association and grouped into the following 14 preliminary codes:

1. Preferred vs required

2. Personal knowledge relationships

3. Work your way up

4. Preference for face to face

5. Regulations are a hurdle

6. Multi-step hiring process with many factors

7. Preferences of hiring committee members

8. Human resources controls most of level one screening

9. Preference for similarity of previous experience

10. Importance of higher education institution

11. Impact of number of applications

12. MOOCs with a degree

13. MOOC say lifelong learner

14. MOOCs still emerging


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 50

From these 14 codes emerged the overarching category of Process and the three sub-

categories of Personal (Organizational) Knowledge, Professional Learning, and Preferences

(see Figure 2). All interviewees described Process as the main determinant of how credentialed

MOOC learning may be perceived in their school district, though the three sub-categories play

important roles in the ultimate outcome of Process. Further discussion surrounding the

relationship of these categories will be presented in the Results section of this chapter.

Preferences

Process
Professional
Learning
Personal
(Organizational)
Knowledge

Figure 2. Qualitative research themes. The graphic represents the overarching theme and

sub-categories that emerged from the qualitative analysis phase.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 51

Findings

In this chapter, an overview of participant demographics will be presented followed by

findings as they align with each of the questions posed above. Given the nature of the mixed

methods study, each question will be discussed from both a quantitative and qualitative

perspective. Neither quantitative nor qualitative data took precedence, though for organizational

purposes, quantitative data will be presented first as this chapter explores each of the studys sub-

questions. This chapter will conclude with elaboration upon the results and interpretations

garnered from collected data.

Data Collection

The target population for this study was administrative personnel responsible for hiring

decisions from 15 public school districts within one county in a suburban metro area in the

commonwealth of Pennsylvania which is in the northeastern United States. For interviews, only

Human Resources Directors were invited. This was due to the Human Resources Directors role

being able to offer the richest description of the hiring process, organizational perceptions of

online learning, and the importance of credentials in making personnel decisions.

While human resources personnel manage significant portions of the hiring process, other

administrative staff members serve on hiring or interview committees when making final

decisions regarding new staff. Therefore, a wider range of roles was sought for the survey due to

three different fields investigated as part of this study: Business and Management, Education,

and Information Technology. Perceptions of these non-human resources administrators regarding

the employability of MOOC students offer a more complete picture of hiring decisions. For the

web-based survey, the following roles were targeted:

Superintendent
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 52

Assistant Superintendent

Technology Director

Pupil Services Director

Business Manager

Curriculum Director

Human Resources Director

Principal

Assistant Principal

Data collection began on April 21, 2015 and concluded on June 30, 2015. Human

Resource Directors were invited for confidential interviews representing one from each public

school district in the county for a total of 15. The researcher had initially provided an estimate of

265 potential survey participants based on email distribution lists maintained by his employer;

however, some of these email addresses were no longer accurate due to job movement or

retirement. Ultimately, 251 school district administrators were invited to participate in the web-

based survey. A participation rate of 60% for both the web-based survey and interviews was

sought. Actual participation results were 40% (6/15) for interviews and 25% (61/251) for survey

responses. The breakdown of survey participation by role can be seen in Figure 3. Only Human

Resources Directors within the 15 public school districts were targeted for interviews, limiting

the potential participant pool to 15. Despite repeated invitations for interviews, only six of the 15

Directors agreed to an interview with the researcher.

No identifiers were collected through the web-based survey, and pseudonyms have been

used to protect the confidentiality of the six interview participants and their school districts. No

descriptors of these interviewees (e.g., years of practice in hiring) will be provided to further
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 53

remove identifying information. When reporting comments from interviewees, the researcher

will refer to them by the pseudonyms Mark, Sarah, Brad, Mary, Beth, and Pete.

Figure 3. Sample population by role. This figure displays the breakdown of web-based survey

participants by self-reported role.

Of the 61 survey respondents, 31 were male (50.8%) and 30 were female (49.2%).

Median age fell in the 41-50 range, though 68.8% identified as between 41-60. The median time

spent in a position responsible for hiring decisions was 6-10 years (36.1%) though it is

noteworthy that 29.5% had spent more than 15 years in a hiring role. All participants possessed

either a masters degree (65.6%) or a doctoral degree (34.4%).The majority of respondents made

hiring decisions for only education jobs (teacher, principal, curriculum specialist/coordinator,
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 54

librarian, educational specialist, teacher aide), though those making hiring decisions in Business

and Management and Information Technology were represented primarily by individuals who

make hiring decisions across several fields (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Sample population by hiring area(s). This figure displays the breakdown of web-based

survey participants by areas for which participants perform hiring functions.

Regarding their familiarity with MOOCs, 44.2% reported being not at all or slightly

familiar and 31.1% reported being familiar or very familiar (M = 2.61, SD = 1.31). Participants

indicated less familiarity with MOOC verified certificates with 61.7% being not at all or slightly

familiar and 16.7% being familiar or very familiar (M = 2.17 , SD = 1.17). The majority had

personally taken an online course (61.7%), but only ten (16.4%) had taken a MOOC. In terms of

experience with job applicants who had taken MOOCs, 11.5% had reported seeing MOOCs
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 55

listed on applicant rsums, and 13.1% had seen MOOC verified certificates on rsums. Tables

presenting all demographic data can be found in Appendix C.

Data Analysis

Consistent with a convergent parallel design, quantitative and qualitative data were

collected concurrently during the ten-week data collection period and analysed separately prior

to looking at both types together for areas of convergence and divergence. These convergent and

divergent areas will be presented in the Results and Interpretations section of this chapter when

addressing the overarching research question underlying this study: How do K-12 public

education employers perceive MOOC learning? In this section, quantitative and qualitative data

will be presented as they relate to each of the research sub-questions posed. Appendix D contains

a table presenting the means of all survey items.

It is important to note that web-based survey questions were posed without specification

as to how much or how little experience theoretical job candidates may possess. As will be noted

throughout this chapter, interviews with Human Resources Directors reflected multiple criteria

that may impact hiring decisions, and the weight attributed to each criterion may vary by

employer. Responses noted in this chapter reflect the willingness of participants to consider

credentialed MOOC candidates for employment within their school district; other criteria could

have an impact on the employers ultimate hiring decision.

Credentialed MOOC learning for employment. The first sub-question asked: Under

what circumstances would credentialed MOOC learning lead to employment? This sub-question

investigated circumstances under which participants perceived that MOOC learning could lead to

employment within their school district. For this question, general attitudes toward MOOC

learning were of interest as the second sub-question deals with differences across the three areas
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 56

of employment identified in this study. Quantitative data are presented first followed by

qualitative findings.

Quantitative data. Survey data indicated that 61.7% of respondents disagreed or

disagreed strongly with the idea that MOOC credentials could replace a bachelors degree even if

the candidate had required clearances and certifications. Only 8.3% agreed or agreed strongly

that MOOCs could replace the bachelors degree. When asked if there were any jobs in their

school districts for which MOOC credentials but no bachelors degree would suffice, 44.3%

agreed or agreed strongly and 23% disagreed or disagreed strongly (M = 3.2, SD =1.26). For

respondents who had taken an online course, an equal proportion of respondents agreed/agreed

strongly as remained neutral (see Table 2).

Table 2

Crosstabulation of Online Course Participants and Perceptions of MOOC Acceptability for Some
Jobs within the School District
MOOOCs for Some Jobs
Disagree Agree
strongly Disagree Neutral Agree strongly Total
Online Y Count 6 3 14 8 6 37
Course % within 16.2% 8.1% 37.8% 21.6% 16.2% 100.0%
Participants Online
Course
Participants
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 57

N Count 4 1 6 9 3 23
% within 17.4% 4.3% 26.1% 39.1% 13.0% 100.0%
Online
Course
Participants

Total Count 10 4 20 17 9 60
% within 16.7% 6.7% 33.3% 28.3% 15.0% 100.0%
Online
Course
Participants

Analysing the same question for those who had taken a MOOC, a slight majority

disagreed/disagreed strongly that MOOC learning would be considered acceptable for some jobs.

Those who had not taken MOOCs indicated more of a willingness to consider MOOC learners

(see Table 3).

Table 3

Crosstabulation of MOOC Participants and Perceptions of MOOC Acceptability for Some Jobs
within the School District
MOOCs for Some Jobs
Disagree Agree
strongly Disagree Neutral Agree strongly Total
MOOC Y Count 3 1 3 2 1 10
Participants % within MOOC 30.0% 10.0% 30.0% 20.0% 10.0% 100.0%
Participants
N Count 7 3 17 16 8 51
% within MOOC 13.7% 5.9% 33.3% 31.4% 15.7% 100.0%
Participants
Total Count 10 4 20 18 9 61
% within MOOC 16.4% 6.6% 32.8% 29.5% 14.8% 100.0%
Participants
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 58

When presented with a candidate who already possesses a bachelors degree, 62.3% of

participants agreed/agreed strongly that they would consider that candidate for a position, and

only 16.4% disagreed/disagreed strongly (M = 3.62, SD = 1). When asked specifically about a

candidate who possessed a bachelors degree but held MOOC credentials in place of a Masters

degree, 53.3% agreed/agreed strongly that they would consider the candidate for a position with

21.7% who disagreed/disagreed strongly (M = 3.38, SD = 1). .

Qualitative data. In interviews conducted for this study, Human Resources Directors all

emphasized the importance of Process when approaching personnel decisions, resulting in its

preeminence as the overarching category. Though each Director and school district had their own

practices within the hiring process, all felt that the idea of Process established guidelines by

which all personnel decisions are made.

Typically, the hiring process begins with a vacancy or the creation of a new position. For

both, Directors modify existing job descriptions to suit the needs of the particular vacancy. In

this stage of the process, the determination of requirements and preferred qualifications is made.

This distinction of required versus preferred qualifications consistently arose from interviewees

and serves as a major component of the Preferences theme. Mark, one of the Human Resources

Directors interviewed in this study, described the difference:

Ive learned the use of the wonderful word preferredso when we do our job

descriptionsunless its a state mandate, for example, you have to have your teaching

certthose examples aside.we would put associates degree or bachelors degree

preferred so youre not fencing yourself in, youre not backing yourself into a corner with

your own job description.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 59

This comment also reflects the role of regulations and state mandates within the hiring

process. For many positions, state agencies require certifications and/or degrees in order for

potential candidates to serve in those roles. When asked about credentials, Mark indicated that

what is mandated to happen supersedes all else when it comes to job descriptions and ultimate

hiring decisions. This idea of process being guided by regulation recurred with each interviewee,

and all interviewees indicated that mandated requirements were most prevalent for teachers:

Teachers must have a bachelors degree from an accredited university and a state-endorsed

instructional certificate.

Once a job description has been determined with required and preferred qualifications,

the screening process begins. All Directors had a screening process though each implemented it

differently. Most indicated that the initial screening process was controlled largely by the Human

Resources department, and some indicated the use of screening filters or rubrics designed to

select the best candidates for interviewing. Sarah described the initial applicant screening as a

series of filters to filter in unique candidates and filter out candidates that don't fit the criteria.

The specific criteria that go into the screening process vary across school districts, but candidates

who meet the minimum requirements may stand out based on select criteria. Brad explained that

youre not just looking at the minimum requirements when youre reviewing applications.

Youre looking at everything. Sarah offered an example of one criterion in practice:

One of the filters we do use is a GPA filter. We're taking a look at the higher GPAs -

obviously, it would be of interest, would carry more weight - and type of school and the

school itself. The school itself can make somebody stand out. It won't eliminate

somebody. The way the filtering process works is to identify those that have a unique

background. If we see somebody with a business degree from Harvard, they're going to
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 60

stand out positively; therefore, that may keep them in the process as opposed to being

filtered out, if that makes sense.

Not only is it specific criteria that play a part in the screening process, but who is doing the

screening also plays a role. Mark shared one example of how specific criteria change with the

person doing the screening:

You might have a building principal who went to a certain school who puts a lot of

weight on the college that they went to, the reputation of the university.There are other

principalsagain, same districtmaybe you're both looking for elementary teachers

who might not put as high a priority on the institution that they attended, who was

looking maybe for experience, or experience in a certain area, maybe work with a

specific population like autistic children or children who struggle in reading or whatever

the case may be.

Mark went on to indicate that, while the screening process remains the same for required

criteria as opposed to preferred, the preferred qualifications can sometimes result in

inconsistency:

A lot of that really goes down to who's on your interview team and who's part of that

process and you really listen to input from all folks. It's not necessarily consistent all the

time because of the personalities and what each administrator brings to the table.

These personalities that bring personal preferences and experiences to each hiring

decision emerged as the major category Personal (Organizational) Knowledge in the analysis

phase. In cases like Mark described, it may be the personal experience of a principal who

attended a specific university as an undergraduate and prefers graduates of that university in

hiring decisions. In other instances, it may be an organizational history, as Beth related: My


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 61

favorite university to hire people from is [local] University. I've hired many people over the

years from [local] University and have always got a good quality candidate.

The Personal (Organizational) Knowledge theme also included personal experiences

with the individual work product of potential job candidates. When asked about what alternative

pathways might exist for candidates to meet requirements for hiring, several Human Resources

Directors indicated personal knowledge of individuals working in various departments of their

school districts who had worked their way up in the district. Beth discussed an accounts

receivable clerk who was working on her bachelor's degree in accounting just to make herself

more marketable. Mary described a pathway into the highly regulated teaching field:

That's a path that's come up where we've had instructional assistants without full formal

degrees work while their employed with us to get some degrees and then continue on

their own expense to get a perhaps a four year degree. We have examples of some people

in our district who've come up as an [instructional assistant], worked to get the

educational requirementsa degree and certification, and are now teachers in our

district.

Marks district feels strongly about wanting to see individuals work product firsthand to

the extent of maintaining substitute pools in non-educational departments like the business

office. These substitute pools become the go-to selection of candidates when vacancies arise. He

explains: They've shown interest in the district, they've shown their willingness to work, we've

seen the quality of their work, and that's why we get to the extra expense both financially and

manpower-wise to employ our own substitutes in all areas.

While candidates possessing MOOC credentials may find alternative pathways into

school district employment, MOOCs are not perceived or accepted as an equivalent for a
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 62

bachelors degree. They do, however, add value to a candidate who already meets minimum

job requirements. Sarah presented the following ranking for candidates, Because the bachelors

is a requirement, if you rank them, bachelors only is at the bottom, and then bachelors plus

some experience, and then bachelors plus some experience plus MOOC. As the interview with

Sarah extended beyond requirements and into preferred qualifications, she came to the

conclusion that it's MOOCs with experience. That's the pathway for somebody to get the job

as opposed to somebody with a degree.

Credentialed MOOC learning across sub-fields. The second sub-question asked: What

are the differences in perceptions of credentialed MOOC learning across the three sub-fields of

Business and Management, Education, and Information Technology? This sub-question sought

information regarding perceived differences with regards to MOOC learning across three

professional fields within K-12 education. The three fields identified in this study were Business

and Management (e.g., business manager, accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll

specialist, accountant), Education (e.g., teacher, principal, curriculum specialist/coordinator,

librarian, educational specialist, teacher aide), and Information Technology (e.g., technology

director, network administrator, programmer, and application developer). Quantitative data are

presented first followed by qualitative findings.

Quantitative data. Survey data showed a difference in the means of perceptions across

the three sub-fields when respondents considered the acceptability of credentialed MOOC study

in place of a bachelors degree (see Table 4). Presenting clear opposition to the idea, 90.2% of

respondents disagreed or disagreed strongly with hiring a candidate within the Education sub-

field who had credentialed MOOC study in place of a bachelors degree. For the other two sub-
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 63

fields, perceptions were less strident with 28.3% who disagreed/disagreed strongly for candidates

in Information Technology and 38.3% for candidates in Business and Management.

Table 4

MOOC Credentials without a Bachelors Degree: Means of


Perceptions across Sub-Fields
MOOCs- No MOOCs- No
Bachelors MOOCs- No Bachelors
degree in Bachelors degree in
Education degree in IT Business
N Valid 61 60 60
Missing 0 1 1
Mean 1.3607 3.0167 2.6167
Std. Deviation .65911 1.14228 1.07501

For candidates with a bachelors degree, the mean of perceptions of hiring candidates

pursuing jobs within the Education sub-field is still lower (M = 3.33, SD = 1.08) than either

Information Technology (M = 3.72, SD =1.01) or Business and Management (M = 3.45, SD =

1.05), though the difference is less striking. When asked about hiring candidates who possessed

bachelors degrees but held MOOC credentials in place of a Masters degree across the three

sub-fields, means were again relatively similar. However, it is interesting to note that the mean

for each sub-field is lower compared to the corresponding mean for hiring candidates who had a

bachelors degree and MOOC credentials. While respondents indicated higher levels of

acceptability across all three sub-fields for a candidate with this type of profile, 60% of

participants agreed/agreed strongly that a candidate with credentialed MOOC study in place of a

Masters degree in IT would be considered for a position (M = 3.55, SD = 1.24). For candidates

with MOOC credentials in place of a Masters in Business, 51.7% agreed that they would be
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 64

considered for a position (M = 3.4, SD = 1.15) while 41% agreed they would consider a

candidate with MOOCs in place of a Masters in the Education sub-field (M = 2.97, SD = 1.34).

Table 5 shows the difference in perceptions by role across three potential MOOC

candidate profiles. Represented are candidates who possess MOOC credentials but no bachelors

degree, those who possess MOOC credentials with a bachelors degree, and those with a

bachelors degree but MOOC credentials in place of a masters degree. With the exception of

candidates who had no bachelors degree, Human Resources Directors had the most positive

perceptions of candidates with credentialed MOOC learning with the lowest perceptions held by

Business Managers and Principals.

Looking across roles, MOOC candidate profiles, and the three sub-fields of Business and

Management, Education, and Information Technology, a candidate in the Information

Technology sub-field who held a bachelors degree and credentialed MOOC study but no

Masters degree was perceived highest with 61.6% of respondents agreeing or agreeing strongly

that the candidates background was acceptable for employment, irrespective of professional

experience. The second most acceptable profile was a candidate in the Information Technology

sub-field who had a bachelors degree but possessed credentialed MOOC study in place of a

Masters degree. Perceived as least acceptable were candidates in the Education sub-field who

had credentialed MOOC study but no bachelors degree.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 65

Table 5

Acceptability of MOOCs at Varied Education Levels by Role


MOOCs- MOOCs-
MOOCs-
With With
MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- With
Bachelors Bachelors
No No No With With With Bachelors
degree but degree but
Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors degree but
No No
degree in degree in degree in degree in degree in degree in No
Masters Masters
Education IT Business Education IT Business Masters
in in
in IT
Role Education Business
Superintendent Mean 1.4286 3.4286 2.2857 3.1429 3.8571 3.2857 3.2857 3.7143 3.5714
N 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Std. .78680 .78680 1.38013 1.06904 .89974 1.25357 1.11270 .75593 .78680
Dev.
Assistant Mean 1.4000 3.8000 3.0000 3.2000 3.8000 3.8000 3.0000 3.8000 3.6000
Superintendent N 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
Std. .54772 .83666 1.22474 1.30384 .83666 .83666 1.58114 .83666 .54772
Dev.
Technology Mean 1.6667 3.0000 2.6667 2.6667 3.8333 3.3333 2.5000 3.8333 3.3333
Director N 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
Std. .81650 1.09545 .51640 .81650 .75277 .81650 1.04881 1.16905 1.21106
Dev.
Pupil Services Mean 1.1429 2.8571 2.6429 3.6429 3.7143 3.6429 3.0714 3.7143 3.5714
Director N 14 14 14 14 14 14 14 14 14
Std. .53452 1.40642 1.15073 .92878 1.20439 .84190 1.26881 1.20439 1.15787
Dev.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 66

Table 5 (continued)

Acceptability of MOOCs at Varied Education Levels by Role


MOOCs- MOOCs-
MOOCs-
With With
MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- With
Bachelors Bachelors
No No No With With With Bachelors
degree but degree but
Role Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors degree but
No No
degree in degree in degree in degree in degree in degree in No
Masters Masters
Education IT Business Education IT Business Masters
in in
in IT
Education Business
Business Mean 1.0000 1.0000 1.0000 3.0000 3.0000 3.0000 1.0000 1.0000 1.0000
Manager N 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Std. . . . . . . . . .
Dev.
Curriculum Mean 1.2500 3.0000 2.6250 3.8750 3.8750 3.3750 3.5000 3.6250 3.3750
Director N 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
Std. .46291 .75593 1.18773 1.12599 .83452 1.40789 1.51186 1.30247 1.40789
Dev.
Human Mean 1.0000 3.7500 2.2500 4.5000 4.7500 4.5000 3.7500 4.5000 4.5000
Resources N 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Director Std. .00000 1.50000 .95743 .57735 .50000 .57735 1.25831 .57735 .57735
Dev.
Principal Mean 1.5333 2.7143 2.7857 3.0000 3.2143 2.9286 2.6000 2.9286 2.9286
N 15 14 14 15 14 14 15 14 14
Std. .83381 1.06904 1.05090 .92582 1.12171 .99725 1.45406 1.49174 1.20667
Dev.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 67

Table 5 (continued)

Acceptability of MOOCs at Varied Education Levels by Role


MOOCs- MOOCs-
MOOCs-
With With
MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- With
Bachelors Bachelors
No No No With With With Bachelors
degree but degree but
Role Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors degree but
No No
degree in degree in degree in degree in degree in degree in No
Masters Masters
Education IT Business Education IT Business Masters
in in
in IT
Education Business
Total Mean 1.3500 3.0339 2.6102 3.3667 3.7119 3.4237 2.9833 3.5424 3.3898
N 60 59 59 60 59 59 60 59 59
Std. .65935 1.14419 1.08305 1.04097 1.01796 1.03729 1.34658 1.25013 1.15992
Dev.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 68

When examining participant perceptions across roles for which they hire (see Table 6),

the candidate with a bachelors degree and credentialed MOOC learning in the Information

Technology sub-field is again the most acceptable overall for employment. Participants were

asked to select for which of the three sub-fields they were responsible for hiring decisions, and

looking across all nine MOOC candidate profiles, survey respondents who reported hiring for all

three sub-fields had the overall highest perception of candidates with MOOC credentials.

Business Managers held the lowest perception, though the low number of Business Manager

participants cannot be said to be representative of all Business Managers. Excepting Business

Managers, the next lowest overall perception by hiring area is the group responsible for hiring

only Information Technology roles.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 69

Table 6

Means of MOOC Perceptions by Hiring Areas


MOOCs- MOOCs-
MOOCs-
With With
MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- With
Bachelors Bachelors
No No No With With With Bachelors
degree but degree but
Hiring Areas Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors degree but
No No
degree in degree in degree in degree in degree in degree in No
Masters Masters
Education IT Business Education IT Business Masters
in in
in IT
Education Business
Business and Mean 1.0000 1.0000 1.0000 3.0000 3.0000 3.0000 1.0000 1.0000 1.0000
Management N 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Only Std. Dev. . . . . . . . . .
Education Mean 1.3421 2.8378 2.7027 3.3684 3.5946 3.3784 2.9737 3.4595 3.2973
Only N 38 37 37 38 37 37 38 37 37
Std. Dev. .66886 1.16699 1.12706 1.05064 1.11703 1.08912 1.38499 1.34566 1.19872
Information Mean 1.7500 3.0000 2.5000 2.5000 3.7500 3.0000 2.0000 3.5000 2.7500
Technology N 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4
Only Std. Dev. .95743 1.41421 .57735 1.00000 .95743 .81650 .81650 1.29099 .95743
Education Mean 1.6250 3.3750 3.1250 3.1250 3.7500 3.6250 3.0000 3.7500 3.7500
and N 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
Information Std. Dev. .74402 .51755 .64087 1.12599 .46291 .74402 1.30931 .88641 .88641
Technology
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 70

Table 6 (continued)

Means of MOOC Perceptions by Hiring Areas


MOOCs- MOOCs-
MOOCs-
With With
MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- MOOCs- With
Bachelors Bachelors
No No No With With With Bachelors
degree but degree but
Hiring Areas Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors Bachelors degree but
No No
degree in degree in degree in degree in degree in degree in No
Masters Masters
Education IT Business Education IT Business Masters
in in
in IT
Education Business
Business and Mean 1.1000 3.6000 2.1000 3.7000 4.2000 3.8000 3.5000 4.0000 4.0000
Management, N 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
Education, Std. Dev. .31623 1.07497 1.10050 1.15950 .91894 1.22927 1.17851 .81650 .81650
Information
Technology
Total Mean 1.3607 3.0167 2.6167 3.3279 3.7167 3.4500 2.9672 3.5500 3.4000
N 61 60 60 61 60 60 61 60 60
Std. Dev. .65911 1.14228 1.07501 1.07581 1.00998 1.04840 1.34123 1.24090 1.15274
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 70

Qualitative data. Human Resources Directors indicated the importance of both Process

and Preferences when looking at perceptions of credentialed MOOC learning across the three

sub-fields of Business and Management, Education, and Information Technology. All Directors

referenced regulations from the Department of Education for jobs such as teachers or principals,

thus creating more minimum degree requirements for the Education sub-field. For positions in

Business and Management or Information Technology, interviewees discussed more flexibility

in establishing required qualifications.

Process and preferences. With the exception of Education jobs, for which candidates

could not be considered without also possessing at minimum a bachelors degree and educational

certification, the number of candidates applying for a given position has influence over how

applicant credentials may be perceived. Sarah, for example, had indicated that the Human

Resources department will filter out 75% of applicants based on the preferred criteria prior to

bringing in non-human resources staff to assist in deciding which candidates will be asked to

interview. Utilizing MITs options for MOOC study in the field of Information Technology as a

case in point, the researcher asked interviewees to compare a candidate who met established

requirements but possessed credentialed MOOC study in place of a bachelors degree. When

asked if she would consider the MOOC candidate, Sarah responded:

If the applicant pool was large enough, no. I suspect if somebody's applying with an MIT

degree, there would be others from maybe a different university not as prestigious as

MIT. I suspect that person with a MOOC would not get an interview.

Mark had a somewhat different perception:

We would view that person relatively highly. Again depending on what the MOOC

courses were and does that match with what the position is actually going to entail. We
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 72

actually see a lot of online training with our tech folks, our technology people. We view it

very highly. Again, would the preference be for more the traditional training route,

traditional degree route? Yes, but are we happy to see people who take the initiative to go

through a MOOC or an online course. Absolutely we would respect their work, again

assuming that it matched up with what the job description and job duties were.

Mary reflected an opinion similar to Sarahs indicating that she would put more of the

focus on the person with the degree, and wouldn't rule the other person out, but if I had to

choose, bring one in and not the other. Beth suggested that, as long as a degree was clearly not a

required qualification, then the applicant with MOOC credentials could be considered. However,

more information may be requested of the MOOC candidate, as she described:

Here's where I look at the title of each class and see what the topics were that they

covered.We're trying to decipher from the title of the course what they studied in that

particular course. Possibly even request additional information from the person if I'm

interested in their candidacy.Maybe a little bullet a sentence or two long so I know

what the heck they learned.

Pete provided a similar answer as Mary, but added a potential financial dimension that

could be perceived as a benefit to the employer for credentialed MOOC candidates. While he

would still need to learn more about the particular knowledge and skills attained by the MOOC

candidate, Pete pointed out that an individual with credentialed MOOC study from a sponsoring

university could potentially have an equivalent skill level as someone who held a degree from

the same university but could be hired at a lower salary:

If you have someone who has a bachelor's or a master's degree in computer science from

MIT and someone has verified courses from there, it's still verified but no degree, maybe
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 73

they're going to make less. That's just the way things are structured now. Personally, if

you found out they were credible, and it was rigorous, then you bring someone in. They

have the skills to complete the job. You do it at a much lesser rate. It might be doable. I

hate to think like that, but ultimately it's true.

Personal knowledge and professional learning. Directors did not report any differences

across sub-fields with respect to the themes of Personal (Organizational) Knowledge or

Professional Learning. Interviewees provided examples across sub-fields of candidates working

their way up to higher positions by being able to demonstrate their work product in positions

with fewer requirements and then pursuing credentials, potentially through MOOC study, that

would allow them to be considered for other roles in the school district. This pathway can also be

considered as evidence of the Directors perceptions of the Professional Learning potential of

MOOCs. While each Director indicated that credentialed MOOC study could be a resource for

existing staff members in Business and Management, Education, or Information Technology to

expand their skills or knowledge, Sarah explained a difference that would apply in her district:

If somebody's going towards the next salary schedule, we don't accept online courses to

do that. The only exception has been for somebody who is pursuing a technology degree,

pursuing courses for them to be able to teach in a technological way. Other than that,

we're not approving online courses at all.

This particular bias against online courses was mentioned throughout interviews

conducted for this study. Though not universal, online credentials were viewed with more

scrutiny than those attained in a face-to-face format. As the online format is one of the defining

features of MOOCs, it will be addressed in the next section focusing on benefits and drawbacks

of MOOC learning.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 74

Benefits and drawback of MOOC learning. The third sub-question asked: What are

employers perceived benefits and drawbacks of MOOC learning? This sub-question sought to

gain the perspectives of school district personnel responsible for hiring decisions regarding the

general benefits and drawbacks of credentialed MOOC learning in the context of potential

employment within their school district. In addition to questions regarding potential bachelors

or masters degree equivalencies, participants were asked about MOOC characteristics such as

large course sizes, completely online instruction, and independent study. Quantitative data are

presented first followed by qualitative findings.

Quantitative data. Survey results indicate that 80% of participants agree or agree

strongly that MOOCs add value to a job candidate (M = 4.0, SD = .91), but 61.7% disagree or

disagree strongly that credentialed MOOC study can be a replacement for a bachelors degree (M

= 2.3, SD =.96). Only 8.3% agreed/agreed strongly with MOOCs replacing a bachelors degree.

In further reference to degree equivalencies, 53.3% agreed/agreed strongly that MOOC study

could substitute for a masters degree with 21.7% disagreeing/disagreeing strongly (M = 3.38,

SD =1.01). The combination of a bachelors degree and credentialed MOOC learning displayed

consistent support with 62.3% who agreed or agreed strongly that they would consider such a

candidate for employment (M = 3.62, SD = 1).

Participants had an overall negative perception of characteristics of MOOC learning.

Only 21.3% felt that online courses provided a comparable experience to face-to-face courses (M

= 2.75, SD =.98). Only 11 (29.7%) of the 37 respondents who indicated they had taken an online

course agreed or agreed strongly that online courses were comparable. Blended (part online and

part face-to-face) courses were perceived more favorably with 73.8% agreeing/agreeing strongly

that they are comparable to face-to-face courses (M = 3.89, SD =.91). Reflecting the overall
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 75

survey population, 29 (78.3%) of the online course participants felt blended courses were

comparable. While only ten participants had reported having taken a MOOC, their perceptions

regarding MOOC characteristics are noteworthy. Only four of the ten (40%) felt that online

courses were comparable to face-to-face while nine (90%) agreed or agreed strongly that blended

courses were comparable.

When questioned if online or face-to-face courses with large numbers of students

(hundreds or thousands) provide comparable learning experiences to those with smaller numbers,

70% disagreed or disagreed strongly (M = 2.1, SD =.8). Those who had taken a MOOC showed

similar feelings with 60% disagreeing/disagreeing strongly and none feeling that large courses

offer comparable experiences. In response to a query about students learning as much from

independent study as from tuition-based courses (regardless of whether online or face-to-face),

the whole group response was mixed with 34.4% disagreeing/disagreeing strongly and 26.2%

agreeing/agreeing strongly (M = 2.87, SD = .92). Only 20% of those who had taken a MOOC felt

that students learn as much from independent study.

In a series of questions relating to the value of credentials (defined as credits or a degree),

43.3% of participants agreed/agreed strongly that credentials from a university reflect the job

candidates level of knowledge or skill (M = 3.27, SD =.86). Interestingly, 60% of those who had

taken a MOOC fell into the agree category but only 40% of those who had not taken a MOOC

felt the same. When asking the same question but in relation to a MOOC provider (e.g. verified

certificates from providers like Coursera, edX, and Udacity) instead of a university, 20% of

participants agreed that credentials from a MOOC provider reflect the job candidates level of

knowledge or skill and 28.3% disagreed or disagreed strongly (M = 2.82, SD = .87). The last

question in this series presented the following statement: MOOC credentials are comparable to
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 76

university credits. Only 8.2% of respondents agreed with 45.9% disagreeing/disagreeing strongly

(M = 2.51, SD =.81). While 8.1% of those who had taken an online course agreed that MOOC

credentials are comparable to university credits, none of the respondents who had taken a MOOC

agreed or agreed strongly (see Table 7).

Table 7

Crosstabulation of MOOC Participants and Perceptions that MOOC Credentials


are Comparable to University Credits (MOOCCREDSCOMPUNI)
MOOCCREDSCOMPUNI
Disagree
Strongly Disagree Neutral Agree Total
MOOC Y Count 1 2 7 0 10
Participants % within 10.0% 20.0% 70.0% 0.0% 100.0%
MOOC
Participants

N Count 6 19 21 5 51
% within 11.8% 37.3% 41.2% 9.8% 100.0%
MOOC
Participants
Total Count 7 21 28 5 61
% within 11.5% 34.4% 45.9% 8.2% 100.0%
MOOC
Participants

Qualitative data. The perceived benefits of credentialed MOOC learning reported by

Human Resources Directors center around the themes of Professional Learning and Preferences,

with drawbacks being aligned to Process, Personal (Organizational)Knowledge, and specific

preferences individual to school districts. While the degree to which Directors perceived MOOC
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 77

learning as beneficial or disadvantageous, definite trends in those perceptions rose to

prominence. Perceived benefits will addressed first followed by drawbacks.

Benefits. As mentioned in the first two research sub-questions, if a degree is not specified

as a minimum requirement for a position and listed only as a preferred qualification, then

students with credentialed MOOC learning may be more likely to be considered for employment.

Interviewees felt that job applicants listing credentialed MOOC study on their resumes would be

perceived as self-motivated and lifelong learners. Sarah went so far as to describe the best

candidate as a person who has a degree, but then has continued to improve themselves by

participating in MOOCs. Pete commented that MOOC study shows that they're willing to

learn and learn in a different environment and further their education.

Adding to the non-traditional route that MOOCs may represent, Mark said that he would

see a MOOC candidate as an outside of the box thinker. He indicated through the course of his

interview that the high school in his school district had been utilizing MOOCs as supplementary

instruction for high school students, so he had some familiarity with them. He continued to

elaborate on the idea that MOOC learning could be indicative of out of the box thinking and

might spur him into taking a closer look at the candidate. When asked to consider a candidate

with credentialed MOOC learning but no bachelors degree, he related a story he had heard on

National Public Radio (NPR):

That would actually be a candidate I would be interested in talking to and for this reason:

its that I'm curious about it. This one story, it was an NPR thing I was listening to: There

was a student who was taking MOOCs at MITcourses in- I want to say Thailand, don't

quote me on that - just within this little farming village, and he did so well that, through

communication with the MIT professor had the student come overfull scholarship, I
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 78

bet he's one of the top ten students at MIT simply because he started taking MIT courses

that they offered for free online. The quote from the student was Thank goodness, this

was available because I came from the worst farm in my village.

Sarah, though firm about the distinction between required and preferred qualifications,

felt that MOOCs could be a conversation-starter for candidates who meet requirements.

During the course of the interview, she began to consider the potential opportunities MOOC

study could offer to individuals without access to higher education:

I was just thinking of the value of MOOCs to somebody who would never be able to

afford an education. ...[C]andidates who would never be able to apply for a job are now

able to apply for a job. I've forgotten what your initial question was because you got me

thinking about working right next to [nearby town with a high poverty rate], there are so

many candidates sitting down there that don't have ....This opens up a world to them.

They can now apply for jobs whereas they couldn't before.

Drawbacks. Sarahs sentiment is in line with MOOC providers aspirations for reaching

those who otherwise may be unable to access higher learning (Cecilia dOliveira, n.d.). However,

MOOCs face numerous perceptual obstacles from Human Resources Directors in K-12

educational environments. The primary drawback mentioned by all interviewees was the fact that

MOOC learning, though it may be credentialed, does not typically lead to a degree. It should be

noted that some IHEs have launched full degree programs utilizing MOOC platforms, notably

Georgia Techs bachelors degree in Computer Science on Udacity and the University of Illinois

MBA program on Coursera. While these programs are considered MOOC-based, they each lead

to a degree offered by the sponsoring university. This study focused on MOOC credentials
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 79

provided by platforms as an alternative to degree programs rather than degree programs offered

via the MOOC platform.

The lack of a degree fell into the overarching Process theme, where many positions,

particularly those within the Education sub-field, are mandated to meet certain requirements by

state agencies. Despite what their own feelings might be, Human Resources Directors are unable

to alter mandated job requirements for these positions. Pete provided more detail on this

limitation:

If it's a teacher, youve got to have a bachelor's. Youve got to have that to be able to get

a teaching certificate. You still have to have a bachelor's degree, even if you went the

internal route. You still have to have a degree. Until that barrier is down, it would be

difficult for someone to become a teacher. How do you fight that? I don't know. You

would have to fight that with the bureau.

Sarah commented that her school district may see both positives and negatives of MOOC

learning based on Preferences, even when a bachelors degree is not a requirement: If it's in

addition to their bachelors degree, it's somebody who's interested in professional development.

If it's in place of a bachelors degree, it raises questions as to why they didn't get the bachelors

degree. This organizational preference for a degree even though a degree may not be required

showed similarity with perceptions of online learning as a medium. While online learning is not

specific to MOOCs, it is certainly a defining feature. Sarahs district took the most stringent

stance against online learning: the district specifically excludes online courses from eligibility for

tuition reimbursement or movement on the teachers salary scale. Tuition reimbursement is a

common benefit in teachers collective bargaining agreements, and those same agreements

negotiate salary schedules based on years of experience and education. Mark had a similar
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 80

reaction to online programs and salary schedules, especially regarding for-profit IHEs describing

a specific for-profit as a place you go to get a lot of creditsdo it quickly, do it relatively

cheaply, and not necessarily to find the best professional development. Other Directors

indicated that their districts exhibited a preference for face-to-face courses and degree programs

but did not view them differently in the context of professional qualifications or learning.

One exception noted by multiple interviewees is the for-profit IHE. Some had indicated

that courses or programs from for-profit institutions would not be perceived as equal to online

courses or programs from non-profit institutions. Again, the Personal (Organizational)

Knowledge of an institution had an impact on how or if online qualifications were scrutinized.

Beth explained that, because there are so many institutions providing online programs, it requires

more investigation on the part of the human resources department:

If it's just an online college or university, weve really got to do a little research to

understand who they are, what they are about, and have to look up some of these online

universities over the last 15 years or so. We've never heard of this place before because

you can take courses all over the place online. An organization such as [local IHE] they

do online programs, or [local IHE] or [local IHE], these colleges have a great rep ...

Reputation, that's what I'm looking for. Reputation as a brick and mortar hopefully

translates to online as well.

Pete, however, presented a more complicated view of online programs. He had revealed

during the interview that he had received one of his educational certifications via an online

format, and, when asked about how online courses or degrees are valued, he offered:

I value anyone who is going to school, whether it's online or not. The world is so

different now. I look at my own experience sometimes.I did my [additional


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 81

administrative certification] online through [IHE on the opposite side of the state]. I have

two kids. I was doing this job and I knocked it out in a year. I did eighteen credits. It

worked for me. It was just as rigorous as having to drive.

Petes experience taking an online program is illustrative of the final perceived drawback

pertaining to the theme of Personal (Organizational) Knowledge. Though Petes experience was

a positive one and caused him to view qualifications received online from a personal point of

view, other Directors developed a negative familiarity with some online degree programs or

institutions and counted it as a detracting factor from a candidates mix of qualifications. The

impact of familiarity and personal experience on perceptions of credentialed MOOC learning is

still emerging, as none of the interviewees had ever personally taken part in a MOOC. This lack

of awareness could present additional challenges for MOOC learning. Brad indicated that,

because of his lack of personal knowledge of the majority of institutions offering MOOCs and of

the medium, in general, he would need a MOOC equivalency scale in order to understand what

skills and knowledge MOOC applicants may be able to offer. Beth felt similarly and offered

advice to MOOC learners pursuing employment:

I think the candidate for a job who's taken MOOC classes needs to be clear on the title of

the course and the certification that they obtained so the reader of their rsum can

understand what they're doing.I think the reader needs to understand the value of each

class they've taken online and what it means to the organization or why they would take a

class. I think the job seeker needs to be able to communicate well to the reader of their

rsum exactly what the course was, what they learned from it, and how they're going to

apply that knowledge into the job setting.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 82

MOOCs and candidates preparedness for employment. The final sub-question in this

study centered around the place MOOCs occupy in a candidates preparedness for employment.

Questions posed related to the perceptions of qualities of students possessing MOOC credentials

Quantitative data are presented first followed by qualitative findings.

Quantitative. This series of questions focused on where credentialed MOOC learning fits

into an employers perception of preparedness. Also addressed were intangible qualities that

credentialed MOOC study may or may not represent to school district staff responsible for hiring

decisions. Overall, 44.3% of participants agreed or agreed strongly that there were some jobs

within their school district for which MOOC credentials but no bachelors degree would suffice.

However, only 13.2% felt that MOOC credentials would suffice for any bachelors degree level

jobs.

Though 60.6% agreed/agreed strongly that credentialed MOOC study displayed self-

motivation on the part of the job candidate and 64.4% agreed/agreed strongly that MOOC study

indicated the candidate had a deep interest in the content, only 31.7% agreed/agreed strongly that

credentialed MOOC study indicated the candidate had deep knowledge in the content area.

Credentialed MOOC study was also largely perceived as an acceptable form of professional

development with 78.3% of respondents agreeing or agreeing strongly with their use as such.

Qualitative. Human Resources Directors interviewed for this study unanimously felt that

credentialed MOOC learning would be perceived as a bonus when applicants are considered

for employment. However, they were equally unanimous that applicants cant replace the

degree with MOOCs. Exactly where MOOCs lie in a candidates preparedness does vary based

on sub-field. Mark explained that he wouldnt even blink about hiring a MOOC candidate for

an Information Technology position but pointed to state regulations as preventing MOOC


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 83

candidates with no degree from being considered for Education jobs. Sarah provided a similar

point of view:

As long as the bachelors degree is not an absolute requirement, somebody with MOOC

credentials and experience has got a shot, but so does somebody with just experience.

What the MOOC credentials does is put them above the person with just experience.

The idea of MOOC candidates complementing their coursework with experience in the

field was also echoed by Mark who advised:

The best thing for any candidate regardless of what their educational background is, is to

come in and work for us through the substitute opportunities because that's where we hire

a great deal of our folks because we've seen them do it.

Regarding existing employees, Directors felt that MOOCs would serve as a good source

of professional learning, though the online format and lack of culminating degrees may prevent

MOOCs from being considered equivalent to credit-bearing courses when it comes to tuition

reimbursement and movement on the salary scale for teachers. Much like the distinction between

for-profit and not-for-profit universities, the Personal (Organizational) Knowledge of the

institution offering MOOCs may separate some providers from others, as Mark indicated: [I]f

you've hired twenty teachers from [a] University and nineteen of them are doing a wonderful job,

you're pretty comfortable going back to that institution who's trained those teachers who are

doing well for you. On the other hand, Pete postulated that the lack of institutional credit for

MOOCs would prevent teachers from utilizing them because a fringe benefit of higher learning

for educators is movement on the salary schedule. However, with no credit offered, there would

be no corresponding movement on the scale, so credit-bearing programs would be more

attractive.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 84

The findings in this section represent a variety of perspectives of credentialed MOOC

learning as identified through both quantitative and qualitative means. MOOCs are clearly still in

an emergent phase as an alternative form of learning, but the researcher has identified major

trends through analyses of these multiple sources of data. In the next section, results and

interpretations will be presented including areas of convergence and divergence between the

mixed methods utilized for data collection.

Results and Interpretations

In the convergent parallel design, qualitative and quantitative data are analyzed separately

then merged to determine areas of convergence and divergence (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011).

Patterns emerged through the data collected for this study to begin answering the question of

how K-12 employers perceive credentialed MOOC learning as a pathway to employment.

Following from the findings indicated above, this section will showcase significant results in the

context of research presented in Chapter 2. As patterns are discussed, areas of convergence and

divergence will be presented where appropriate. This section will conclude with the researchers

interpretations of patterns that have emerged from collected data.

Four major patterns have been identified through analysis and comparison of data

sources. First, K-12 school district employers are in a developing stage of awareness of MOOCs

as a medium for learning despite an awareness of the universities that offer MOOCs via various

platforms. Second, credentialed MOOC study is perceived positively, but it wont necessarily

lead to employment. Next, a difference exists in perceptions of MOOC learning across the sub-

fields of Business and Management, Education, and Information Technology. Last, MOOCs may

represent a starter for entry into employment with an organization for those willing to work

their way up.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 85

MOOC Familiarity

Most participants in this study indicated at least some level of awareness of MOOCs,

though only a small portion had ever participated in a MOOC personally. A similarly small

percentage had seen job applicants list credentialed MOOC study on a rsum. This can be seen

as consistent with the 4-5% completion rates reported for most MOOCs (Ho et al., 2014). With a

limited number of students completing MOOCs, there would be fewer who could list them on

their rsums. This lack of familiarity could have implications for the acceptance of MOOC

study as a pathway to employment.

Rivera (2011) showed that the specific university attended by a job candidate had an

impact on employers hiring decisions. Within this study, the theme of Personal

(Organizational) Knowledge that emerged from interviews showed that K-12 employers look

more favorably upon a university that has produced effective candidates in the past. With a still

emerging awareness of credentialed MOOC learning and MOOC platforms such as Coursera,

edX, and Udacity, K-12 employers may need to have a positive hiring experience with a MOOC

learner prior to any increased level of acceptance.

Both sources of data showed that K-12 employers do not perceive credentialed MOOC

learning as a replacement for a degree. However, survey results displayed that 43.3% of

participants agreed/agreed strongly that credentials from a university reflect the job candidates

level of knowledge or skill. Alternatively, interviews with Human Resources Directors revealed

that all made the assumption that a university degree was reflective of the job candidates level

of knowledge or skill. This is representative of signaling theory (Spence, 1973): A degree serves

as a sign that the candidate possesses the required knowledge and skill because the candidate

made the investment in the educational credential.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 86

This present phase of growing MOOC familiarity may be a sensitive stage for MOOCs as

a credible learning medium. With no large-scale, formal recognition of equivalency to university

credits or degree programs, MOOC learners may not be able to gain employment in fields where

degrees serve as minimum requirements for entry. Unless MOOC providers are able to sway

employers perceptions that credentialed MOOC study can be as reliable a signal as university

credits or degrees are, then MOOCs may remain an option primarily for self-motivated learning

or continued professional learning for those who already possess degrees.

The Limited but Positive Perception of MOOCs

A large majority of participants (80%) agreed that MOOCs add value to a job candidate,

but, as mentioned above, they do not serve as an alternative to a degree. Asked about a potential

applicant who possessed a bachelors degree and credentialed MOOC study, a smaller majority

(62.3%) felt that they would consider the applicant for a position. This preference for MOOCs as

an addition to rather than a substitute for a degree is consistent with the profile of 83% of MOOC

learners who already have an associates or bachelors degree (Emmanuel, 2013).

Human Resources Directors expressed a similar overall positive impression of MOOC

learning but stressed the difference between required and preferred qualifications, particularly for

the sub-field of Education. For highly regulated roles such as teachers, MOOC students will not

be considered unless they also possess a bachelors degree and state-endorsed teaching

certification. As such, job descriptions in highly regulated fields are subject to state-mandated

requirements leaving less flexibility for considering candidates who may possess similar skills

and knowledge but dont possess the mandated credentials. Despite the job descriptions

indication of minimum required qualifications, interview data showed that the hiring process can

be subject to the preferred criteria of hiring personnel, similar to Riveras (2011) findings with
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 87

elite employers perceptions of educational credentials. Human Resources Directors indicated

that hiring personnel may show preferences for specific universities, places of residence, or

experience working in a similar environment, even though those criteria were not reflected as

requirements or preferences in the job description. Thornburghs (2014) research concluded that

this type of misalignment between job descriptions and actual criteria used in making hiring

decisions may prevent highly qualified candidates from applying for jobs that appear not to

match the candidates level of qualification. The resulting impact leaves qualified candidates

without a job and employers with a smaller pool of qualified candidates.

Though not perceived as comparable to university credentials, MOOCs are seen as a

valuable addition to a candidates qualifications. A majority of participants across both data

sources in this study felt that MOOCs were an acceptable form of professional development,

demonstrating consistency with existing research across an array of industries showing

employers acceptance of MOOCs as a medium for professional development and representative

of the candidates motivation (Radford et al, 2014). Human Resources Directors suggested that

MOOCs would be a positive resource for furthering the learning of existing employees, but they

did present a divergent view that sets additional restrictions on MOOCs. For positions such as

teachers classified under a collective bargaining agreement, MOOCs may not be an attractive

option because they do not result in university credit. According to interviewees, many collective

bargaining agreements stipulate that professional development pursued by teachers on an

individual basis must result in the award of university credit for purposes of tuition

reimbursement or movement on the bargaining units salary scale. In essence, teachers could

utilize MOOCs for their own professional learning, but their employers would not reimburse
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 88

them for any costs incurred nor would they experience the same salary increase that they would

if they took the same course through a university for academic credit.

MOOCs benefit from an overall positive perception on the part of school district

employers, but some positions will be unattainable for MOOC learners without a university

degree due to mandated minimum requirements. In addition to the need for employers to become

more familiar with credentialed MOOC study before MOOC students are more easily considered

for some positions, agencies that issue mandated minimum qualifications for jobs would need to

do the same. School district employers may, over time, find that MOOC learners possess

desirable qualities and similar skill levels as degreed candidates but will be unable to employ

them in many Education sub-field jobs because of inflexible requirements.

One of the defining features of MOOCs also presents an obstacle. Data from both sources

reflected that online courses are not regarded the same as face-to-face courses, even though a

majority of participants indicated having had experience as an online student. Survey results

showed that only 21.3% felt online courses delivered a comparable experience as face-to-face.

Despite interviewees indication that online coursework was becoming more accepted, all

explained that their school districts exhibited a preference for courses conducted face-to-face.

Allen and Seaman (2013) found similar results with over 40% of academic leaders believing

employers lack of acceptance of online education is a barrier to the growth of online programs.

As of 2013, one third of higher education students participate in at least one online class

(Allen & Seaman, 2013). Additional data suggest that students in online classes perform, on

average, slightly better than their face-to-face counterparts (US Department of Education, 2010).

Given these figures, the number of school district hiring personnel with personal experience in

online education is likely to increase. Attitudes toward MOOCs may co-evolve with perceptions
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 89

of the merits of online education. However, as revealed through interview data, school district

employers do not view all higher education degrees equally. While all candidates with degrees

would be considered to meet minimum qualifications for most jobs, school district employers

tend to prefer candidates from specific IHEs, whether it be because of previous personal

affiliation or organizational history of positive hiring experiences. This preferential treatment

could bode well or poorly for some MOOC providers and offering IHEs.

As an example, Human Resources Directors participating in this study showed a

preference for regional IHEs known to have strong preparation programs in each of the three

indicated sub-fields. MOOC platforms like Coursera or edX offer MOOCs from IHEs around the

world, and the vast amount of choice could be overwhelming to employers who are trying to

evaluate the quality of one MOOC credential over another. Akin to Riveras (2011) findings,

employers may, as a result, default to only the most widely known and respected IHEs when

considering MOOC candidates. In turn, MOOC learners could find that only certain MOOC

credentials result in employment outcomes.

Differences across Sub-Fields

While participants in this study showed a clear preference for candidates with a degree,

differences exist in perceptions of candidates within the three focus sub-fields of Business and

Management, Education, and Information Technology. Both data sources reflected a higher level

of acceptability of MOOC learning in Information Technology, with interviewees indicating that

certifications, rather than degrees, drive requirements in the sub-field. This is aligned

with existing data on the use of certifications in IT (Poyiadgi, 2014) and with the idea that

employment outcomes for MOOC learning are still limited to the technology sector

(Welsh & Dragusin, 2013).


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 90

Survey data showed that a significant portion of participants (44.3%) felt that

credentialed MOOC study could suffice for some jobs within their school district, but few

(13.2%) felt that those jobs would be at the bachelors degree level. Human Resources Directors

corroborated this finding with their emphasis on required as compared to preferred

qualifications. Jobs within the Education sub-field (e.g. teacher, principal) are regulated by the

state whereas those in Business and Management and IT could have more flexible requirements.

Thus, for many jobs within Education, MOOC learners will not be considered for employment

unless they also possess at least a bachelors degree and instructional certification.

With no delineation of sub-field, just over half of survey respondents felt that

credentialed MOOC study could take the place of a Masters degree provided that the candidate

possessed a bachelors degree and any required certifications. However, when presented with

each sub-field separately, holding MOOC credentials in place of a Masters degree in IT was

most widely acceptable (60%) followed by Business (51.7%) and then Education (41%).

Interviewees affirmed this trend by some participants questioning why a candidate in the

Education sub-field would opt to pursue MOOC study in place of a Masters degree, given

collective bargaining agreement stipulations surrounding tuition reimbursement and movement

on the salary schedule.

Within the field of K-12 education, jobs in Information Technology may be the most

attainable by students with credentialed MOOC study but no degree. This may be due to the fact

that many IT jobs already utilize specific programming or application certifications as a

requirement for employment rather than a degree. This study found that jobs do exist within

school districts for which credentialed MOOC learning could lead to employment, but jobs with

minimum degree requirements are not among them. Signaling theory appears to have an impact
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 91

on the Education sub-field but less relevance within Information Technology. This may be due to

specific competency bases for many IT jobs that are aligned with job descriptions (e.g., Java

Engineer, Android Developer, Windows Administrator), whereas many Education jobs are more

general (e.g., Teacher, Principal, Curriculum Supervisor).

Within the school district setting, collective bargaining agreements may be an additional

limitation by nature of the fact that membership requirements must be met in order to be part of

the agreement that covers a broad class of employee. For example, to be a member of the

teachers bargaining unit, members must possess at minimum a bachelors degree and

certification and must maintain that certification. In addition to not having minimum job

requirements mandated by state agencies, more specific types of employees such as those within

the IT sub-field roles referenced above are fewer in number and may have no corresponding

bargaining agreement, thus enabling the employer more flexibility in determining job

requirements.

MOOCs as Career Starter

The theme of Personal (Organizational) Knowledge which arose from interviews

conducted for this study centers around the idea that school district employers tend to hire

candidates who are known to the hiring personnel or the district. Survey data revealed that

credentialed MOOC study is perceived as acceptable for some jobs within a school district but

not for those requiring degrees. Human Resources Directors related multiple examples of

individuals who sought employment in their districts but did not, at first, meet qualifications for

their desired positions. These candidates were accepted into a substitute pool of employees or

were selected for a position with fewer required qualifications and then worked their way up in
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 92

the district by earning the required certifications or degrees. During this starter period, candidates

were able to demonstrate their work product, motivation, and potential to the district employer.

MOOC credentials may be sufficient to demonstrate a candidates motivation, skills, and

abilities (Bell, 2013; Bonvillian & Singer, 2013) to a potential employer. Given the highly

positive perception of credentialed MOOC study, in general, across both data sources, MOOC

students who do not possess minimum requirements could gain entry into employment with a

school district if they are willing to begin at a lower level. Ultimately, the MOOC students could

pursue further education either through additional MOOC credentials or through university study

in order to obtain a higher level position.

With the exception of pursuing some school district jobs in IT, potential MOOC learners

should regard their study as an opportunity to develop a specialization area and to demonstrate

their motivation and willingness to learn. MOOC study alone may be sufficient as a

conversation-starter, but is unlikely to lead to bachelors level jobs. However, the clear

positive perception of credentialed MOOC learning may be indicative that school district

employers would be willing to invest in MOOC learners at a lower level and provide candidates

the chance to demonstrate their commitment and work product as they pursue additional

qualifications for their desired position.

Summary

Findings from this study showed that MOOCs are still in an emergent phase as a

recognized form of credentialed learning in the field of K-12 education. They are perceived as an

overall positive indication of candidates motivation and interest in furthering their professional

learning. For potential employment purposes, they are most suited to positions not subject to

agency-regulated requirements. These positions tend to fall mostly in the sub-field of


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 93

Information Technology, where school district employers are able to exert more control over

required qualifications listed in job descriptions.

Examining these results from a human capital or signaling theory perspective, both

theories seem to have a role. For those positions that are highly regulated, the degree and

instructional certification serve as the signal (Spence, 1973) that the candidate possesses the

requisite skills and abilities to perform required functions. Furthermore, Human Resources

Directors indicated that other signals may be at play within screening processes. A degree from a

specific institution or prior work experience at a similar school district may offer additional

signals to potential employers that the candidate will be a successful employee. Human capital

theory is evident in the overall positive impression of MOOC study. MOOC learners are largely

perceived as being self-motivated, lifelong learnersqualities that would ultimately benefit an

organization (Becker, 1962). The concept of working your way up also shows consistency

with human capital theory as a means of progress toward signaling theory. Candidates may take

a lower level positon than the one desired with a school district in order to gain on-the-job

experience and demonstrate their capacity while pursuing the requisite credentials in order to

signal their readiness for employment at a higher level.

With regulations being a barrier to entry for many positions, it is unclear what status

credentialed MOOC learning could hold if it became a validated, viable pathway to all positions.

Results from personnel making hiring decisions showed a strong preference for degreed

candidates who attained their credentials from locally familiar brick-and-mortar institutions. If

MOOCs were deemed acceptable as a means of meeting minimum job requirements, they would

still be subject to preferential criteria utilized in applicant screening and hiring processes.

Beyond minimum requirements that are mandated for some roles, this study showed that school
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 94

district employers and individuals making hiring decisions impact the process with personal and

organizational preferences. Ultimately, until school districts have successful experiences hiring

credentialed MOOC learners, MOOCs may be perceived only as secondary evidence of a

candidates personal interest in a subject area.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 95

Chapter 5: Conclusions and Recommendations

Introduction

The problem presented in this research was the potential for MOOC learners to gain

successful employment as a result of their learning. Subsequently, the studys purpose was to

explore the perceptions of potential employers in the field of K-12 education as to the benefits of

MOOC learning by potential employees. A particular focus was given to positions within the

sub-fields of Business and Management, Education, and Information Technology. Its

significance lies in moving toward an understanding of the place MOOCs occupy within the

higher education ecosystem through seeking an answer to how or if credentialed MOOC study

contributes to employment within K-12 education. This chapter will build on the findings,

results, and interpretations presented in Chapter 4 by offering conclusions to the research

questions posed followed by recommendations for possible solutions and future research.

Conclusions

The overarching question for this study asked: How do K-12 public education employers

perceive MOOC learning? The following sub-questions were posed as a means to further explore

the overarching question:

1. Under what circumstances would credentialed MOOC learning lead to employment?

2. What are the differences in perceptions of credentialed MOOC learning across the three

sub-fields of Business and Management, Education, and Information Technology?

3. What are employers perceived benefits and drawbacks of MOOC learning?

4. What place do MOOCs occupy in a candidates preparedness for employment?

Conclusions will be drawn for each of the sub-questions before offering an answer to the

overarching question.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 96

Circumstances Leading to Employment

Within the K-12 education field, the most productive pathway to employment for MOOC

learners is to combine MOOC learning with a degree program. Credentialed MOOC learning is

not presently perceived as an equivalent alternative to completing a degree program. While some

jobs within the Information Technology sub-field may be attainable for MOOC learners without

a degree, many roles are subject to agency-mandated requirements, and school district employers

have no flexibility in adjusting those requirements without corresponding action on the part of

the regulating agencies.

This study showed that MOOC study is perceived positively by K-12 school district

employers, and candidates with degrees and credentialed MOOC study may stand out as self-

motivated and possessing specialized knowledge. Credentialed MOOC learners who meet degree

requirements and possess prior experience working in their desired field or in a similar

environment may be even more highly regarded, as school district employers show a strong

preference for familiarity of experience when it comes to hiring decisions.

An alternate pathway for MOOC learners who do not possess a degree is to accept a

lower-level position as a means to demonstrate capacity, work product, or commitment to the

employer. This study showed that school district employers see benefits from candidates who

have worked their way up through various levels within the district. The employer benefits from

seeing the work product of the candidate in practice and developing familiarity prior to making a

larger investment. Candidates benefit from the opportunity to have first-hand knowledge of the

employer and, in some cases, associated on-the-job training while they pursue additional

qualifications for higher level positions.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 97

Differences across Sub-Fields

This study found that some sub-fields within K-12 education are more highly regulated

than others, and MOOC learners without degrees will not meet requirements for those jobs with

mandated qualifications. In particular, many jobs in the Education sub-field such as teachers or

principals will be out of reach for MOOC learners unless they also possess at minimum a

bachelors degree and instructional certification. Jobs in Business and Management and

Information Technology may have more flexible required qualifications, but employers exhibit a

strong preference for candidates who have degrees. In some cases in these two fields,

credentialed MOOC study may be enough to meet minimum requirements, but, when compared

to a pool of applicants who possess degrees, the MOOC learners will not be considered as well-

qualified.

Perceptions of post-secondary online learning as a whole were found to be mixed and

organizationally biased against programs completed online but, at times, individually unbiased

due to personal experience as an online learner. Results do suggest, however, that any bias

against online programs does not apply to the IT sub-field. This may be due to the perception of

online learning as belonging to the Information Technology world or due to the pre-existing

status within IT of MOOC-like certifications focused on specific computer applications.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Based on this studys results, the benefits of MOOC study are seen differently based on

status as a job candidate or as an existing employee. For job candidates, credentialed MOOC

study is an indicator of a self-motivated learner who possesses a deep interest in a subject area.

MOOC study is not seen as an alternate pathway to employment for the more highly regulated

roles. Even though jobs in IT may be attainable for MOOC candidates, this study found that
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 98

school district personnel responsible for hiring decisions prefer candidates with degrees. Thus,

even though a MOOC student may be considered for some less-regulated roles, if the hiring pool

attracts candidates with degrees, those candidates will be looked upon more highly. The major

drawback for candidates is that MOOC learning credentials are not recognized in the same way

as university degree or certification programs, limiting the employment options for both

candidates and school districts alike.

For existing employees, MOOC study is seen as a positive source of professional

development in order to deepen an employees knowledge in a given area. Again, the preference

is for degree-based professional development, even though school district employers may be

more subject to increased costs for employees who pursue university credits and degrees.

Collective bargaining agreements stipulate courses and programs for which members may

receive reimbursement or salary schedule movement, and district employers must abide by the

agreement. For existing employees who are bargaining agreement members, this may have the

drawback of turning them away from MOOC learning options.

Employment Preparedness

Unless or until credentialed MOOC learning is deemed to be the same type of signal to an

employer that a university degree program is, it will occupy the same space as other uncredited

learning opportunities like workshops or conferences attended. In a similar sense to workshops

and conferences, MOOC study has the benefit of demonstrating intangible qualities like

motivation or commitment to lifelong learning. If MOOC study is combined with some level of

experience in the field of K-12 education, candidates may be given the opportunity to begin work

at a school district at a lower level and work their way up. When explained adequately by

candidates on a rsum, MOOC study may serve as a conversation starter and, depending on
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 99

the sub-field and particular job in question, may assist in gaining the attention of district hiring

personnel.

As new digital methods of demonstrating learning continue to expand, MOOC learners

adept at displaying this evidence to potential employers may be able to use these to their

advantage. If candidates MOOC study resulted in a digital badge, for example, the badge can be

displayed on a digital rsum and linked to metadata explaining exactly what the student

accomplished in order to obtain the badge (Phelan, 2012; Plotkin, 2011). This digital movement

would, however, have to be implemented on both the candidate and employer ends of hiring

decisions in order to be applied in areas outside of Information Technology.

Implications

The overarching question of this study asked how K-12 public education employers

perceive MOOC learning. The researcher approached this question through the examination of

perceptions by a mixed methods convergent parallel design. Based on conclusions drawn from

quantitative and qualitative data, the following primary implication has emerged: K-12 public

education employers see MOOC study as a good source of professional learning but find them

limited as direct preparation for employment. School district employers see the personal

enrichment benefits MOOCs can offer, but internally and externally imposed requirements form

barriers to credentialed MOOC learning serving as a pathway into most K-12 public school

employment. MOOC learners may be able to gain new knowledge and skills through their study,

but they will presently be unable to obtain the required credentials for bachelors level K-12

education roles. MOOC providers offer an abundance of learning and professional growth

opportunities but may not be able to present employability outcomes for learners in K-12

education without collaboration with state regulatory agencies.


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 100

While MOOCs, like higher education, in general, may be taken for the sole purpose of

personal enrichment, MOOC learners seeking to expand their professional opportunities may not

see their learning recognized by employers in the same way a comparable university-based

degree program may be. Degree programs, however, represent a body of knowledge commonly

recognized by employers and the degree or university credit serves as the proof of a candidates

competence. Thus, credentialed MOOC study is currently confined to a human capital theory

perspective because, in most cases, MOOC learners are not awarded the signal that is necessary

for degree-based jobs.

This limitation differs in Information Technology where MOOC-style credentials or

certifications are commonly seen as suitable for meeting minimum job requirements. In the

private IT industry, MOOCs are already used as a direct source for employers to find new talent

(Chea, 2012). In other fields, MOOCs are still an emerging form of learning, particularly in K-12

education. Consortia of universities are beginning to investigate how new models of teaching and

learning, including MOOCs, can be cost-effectively incorporated into potential credit-bearing

pathways designed to meet the needs of students with varied educational backgrounds (Davis,

2015). MOOC learners are indicating tangible and intangible career benefits from their MOOC

study (Zhenghao et al., 2015). If MOOC credentials were to gain more recognized accreditation

or if MOOC-based degree programs sponsored by universities proliferate, the highly regulated

K-12 jobs that are presently not attainable by MOOC study may be opened up to applicants who

otherwise would not be considered.

If MOOCs were to gain more acceptance, recognition, or accreditation, employers and

candidates alike could find themselves in a two-tiered system (Davis, Evenden, Sandstrom, &

Puptsau, 2013). Full, university-based degree programs could become an elite qualification and
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 101

MOOC-based programs a more proletarian option, as Corbett (2013) noted: What MOOCs

promise is cash flow for elite schools and the degradation or elimination of the possibility to

acquire a liberal education outside of those schools ( p. 215). From an employment perspective,

this study revealed that organizations and hiring personnel have specific criteria which carry

more weight when making screening or final hiring decisions. In a two-tiered system where

candidates at both tiers meet qualifications, employers could be faced with choosing between

more costly but more highly regarded degreed candidates and less costly but acceptable MOOC-

credentialed candidates.

The two-tiered scenario raises questions that are pertinent to the current mix of higher

education and employment. Are job descriptions and requirements reflective of necessary

performance-based measures, or do they assume competencies based on stated

degree/certification requirements? Are hiring processes aligned to actual job performance?

Should degree programs be geared toward an employment outcome or toward the goal of higher

learning? Does the seat time required for credits and degrees demonstrate a students learning?

These questions may necessitate reflection on the part of employers and universities as

MOOCs and other, as-yet-unseen forms of learning continue to emerge. K-12 school district

employers have only begun to see candidates with credentialed MOOC study in their

backgrounds. The following section will present recommendations for stakeholders noted in this

study and provide possible directions for future research.

Recommendations

Stemming from the results and interpretations of this study, recommendations can be

made regarding credentialing practices, perspectives of online learning, and employment

protocols. Recommendations for MOOC learners will be presented first followed by those for
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 102

school district employers, MOOC providers, and state agencies. Suggestions for future research

will be noted prior to offering concluding comments for this study.

For MOOC Learners

Based on employer preferences for degreed candidates, MOOC learners seeking

employment outcomes would be wise to pursue university credit-based programs offered via

MOOC platforms when possible and available. Such programs are few in number as of the

completion date of this study and, therefore, may not be a likely course of action for MOOC

learners. Secondarily, given that school district Human Resources Directors interviewed for this

study reflected an organizational preference for regional universities, MOOC learners should be

aware that name recognition plays a role throughout the applicant screening and interview

process. If a local university offers MOOC credentials in some areas and the learner will not be

relocating, local employers would likely have a comparative basis upon which to assess any

MOOC credentials presented by an applicant. If no local IHEs offer such opportunities, MOOC

learners would be advised to select programs from sponsor universities that will bear name

recognition regardless of location. Finally, learners should present clear explanations of courses

taken and skills or work products developed as a result of MOOC study. Many K-12 employers

may not be familiar with MOOCs as a medium. When possible, applicants should provide

rsum-embedded links to course or specialization program metadata that will offer the employer

additional details regarding the MOOC credentials.

For School District Employers

Parallel to applicants providing detailed explanation of MOOC credentials, school district

employers should request additional information from eligible credentialed MOOC applicants if

not provided. Not all MOOCs offer the same type of outcome evidence, and MOOC learners
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 103

should be prepared to explain how their skill sets meet job requirements. Employers may also

find benefit in considering what pathways could be appropriate for credentialed MOOC learners.

Along similar lines, when negotiating bargaining unit agreements, district employers may wish

to determine how credentialed MOOC study should be evaluated for purposes of professional

development given that some level of cost savings may be obtained when compared to university

tuition rates. Lastly, when assessing the value of online professional education programs, school

district employers should examine practices with staff as they are aligned to practices with

students. If online education is accepted for students but not staff or vice versa, mixed messages

could be delivered to district and community stakeholders.

For State Agencies and MOOC Providers

The number of occupations requiring licensing in the U.S. has risen by 20% since the

1950s, and every state sets its own licensing requirements for each of those occupations (U.S.

Department of the Treasury Office of Economic Policy, the Council of Economic Advisers, &

the Department of Labor, 2015). State agencies regulating highly licensed fields such as

education may wish to examine how or which licensing requirements are necessary. In the

context of MOOC learning which may offer higher education opportunities to those who

otherwise may be unable to access such resources, agencies may be unintentionally excluding

qualified applicants from pursuing employment. Likewise, employers may be unable to access a

larger pool of qualified candidates due to stringent licensing requirements.

Stringent requirements do not necessitate the abandonment of licensing practices. On the

contrary, licensing provides a standard to which occupations can be held and provides the public

an idea as to the level of service it should receive. MOOC providers may benefit from exploring

options with state licensing agencies on the development of alternative pathways to develop
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 104

credentials absolutely necessary for employment in such highly regulated fields as education.

Providers, whether a MOOC platform or university sponsor, should be able to provide MOOC

learners and regulating agencies with evidence that knowledge and skills gained by students

meet licensing requirements in similar fashion to traditional programs.

Future Research

The researcher presents the following recommendations, in addition to those noted above,

as directions for future study:

Replicate this study with independent schools and charter schools to determine if

perceptions are consistent across different types of K-12 educational entities.

Investigate online only (cyber) K-12 schools to determine consistency of perceptions.

Explore perceptions of public school districts in different demographic areas (urban and

rural), in states with different regulatory requirements for K-12 educators, and in states

without collective bargaining units.

Explore K-12 employers perceptions of credentialed MOOC learning in international

environments.

Summary

Utilizing a convergent parallel design, this study sought to explore the perceptions of

potential employers in the field of K-12 education as to the benefits of MOOC learning by

potential employees. The Disruption Caused by MOOCs, Employers Perceptions of Online

Learning, and Credentialing served as the major research streams of the theoretical framework.

Through the lens of these three, quantitative and qualitative data were collected and analysed to

establish the four major trends that emerged from the results of this study. First, MOOCs are still

emerging as a medium for learning, and school district employers may not yet possess the level
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 105

of familiarity needed to fully assess their place in a candidates preparedness. Second, MOOCs

are perceived positively overall but suffer from limited employment outcomes due to regulations

for many jobs requiring a degree in order to be considered for positions. Next, MOOC

credentials are perceived as more acceptable in the Information Technology sub-field because of

more flexibility in establishing minimum job requirements. Last, MOOC study may be seen as a

career starter for candidates choosing to work in K-12 education who are willing to work their

way up and pursue additional certifications or degrees required for higher level positions.

Credentialed MOOC learners pursuing careers in K-12 education will have difficulty

being considered for many roles in this highly licensed field. While MOOC-based education has

made inroads in Information Technology, regulations surrounding job requirements for many

positions in K-12 education will restrict school districts from considering MOOC candidates.

Credentialed MOOC study offers opportunities for learners to pursue higher education at much

lower costs than university tuition rates. However, perceptual data suggest that hiring personnel

in K-12 education view degrees as signals that job candidates possess the skills and abilities to

perform required job functions. Alternatively, MOOC candidates may need to offer explanation

and evidence as to how their course of study aligns with job requirements.

In an era where anywhere, anytime higher learning opportunities are abundant (Bonk,

2009), employers and regulating agencies may need to review criteria for job requirements and

reflect on how candidates demonstrate their capacity to perform job functions. MOOC providers

and universities may need to collectively determine how MOOC credentials benefit those

without post-secondary degrees who seek to expand their own professional opportunities through

credentialed MOOC study. MOOC learners who expand their knowledge through MOOC

credentials may find themselves as pioneers in new career pathways yet to be developed by
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 106

universities, providers, and employers seeking to maximize access to a new segment of the

workforce.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 107

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Appendix A

Web-based Survey Design

Perceptions of MOOC Learning for Employability: Public Education as Microcosm

The following questions ask for your perceptions of massive open online courses

(MOOCs) as they pertain to employability in your school district. Many types of MOOCs exist,

but, for the purposes of this survey, MOOCs can be defined as online courses offered by

universities for free and may enroll thousands of students at one time. MOOC instruction is

largely done through short video modules, peer and instructor discussion, and web-based

assessments. If MOOC participants successfully complete a course, they may pay a small fee in

order to receive a Verified Certificate from the MOOC provider (e.g., Coursera, edX) which

verifies their identity and affirms their successful completion of the course. Sequences of courses

around a thematic concept or skill can be completed in order to earn a specialization certificate.

While MOOC courses and specializations are offered on MOOC platforms by hundreds of

universities, participants do not receive university credit for their completed coursework.

Demographic data:

1. What is your gender?

a. Male

b. Female

2. What is your age?

a. 20-30

b. 31-40

c. 41-50

d. 51-60
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 123

e. 61-70

f. Over 70

3. What is your role? (Choose the title that best fits your current role)

a. Superintendent

b. Assistant Superintendent

c. Technology Director

d. Pupil Services Director

e. Business Manager

f. Curriculum Director

g. Principal

h. Assistant Principal

4. How long have you been in a position responsible for hiring decisions? (including

previous positions where you were responsible for hiring decisions)

a. 0-5 years

b. 5-10 years

c. 10-15 years

d. Longer than 15 years

e. I am not responsible for making hiring decisions (*will lead to a thank you for

your participation page)

5. For which of the following job categories do you contribute to hiring decisions? (check

all that apply)

a. Business and Management jobs (e.g., business manager, accounts receivable,

accounts payable, payroll specialist, accountant, etc.)


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 124

b. Education (e.g., teacher, principal, curriculum specialist/coordinator, librarian,

educational specialist, teacher aide, etc.)

c. Information Technology (e.g., technology director, network administrator,

programmer, and application developer

6. What is your highest level of education?

a. Certificate

b. Associate degree

c. Bachelors degree

d. Masters degree

e. Doctoral degree

7. Rate your level of familiarity with massive open online courses (MOOCs) (1 = not at all

familiar, 5 = very familiar)

8. Rate your level of familiarity with MOOC verified certificates (1 = not at all familiar, 5 =

very familiar)

9. Have you ever personally taken an online course? (Y/N)

10. Have you ever personally enrolled in a MOOC? (Y/N)

11. I have seen job applicants list MOOCs on their resumes (Y/N)

12. I have seen job applicants list MOOC verified courses on their resumes (Y/N)

The following questions ask you about your perspectives regarding massive open online courses

(MOOCs). Please rate your level of agreement with the following statements. (1 = disagree

strongly, 5 = strongly agree).

For all the statements below, the term students refers to adult learners.
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 125

MOOCs are online courses offered by universities for free and may enroll thousands of

students at one time. Students may pay a small fee in order to receive a Verified

Certificate from the MOOC provider (e.g., Coursera, edX) which verifies their identity

and affirms their successful completion of the course.

Specializations are a series of MOOCs completed around a thematic concept or skill.

MOOC credentials and credentialed MOOC study mean that the job candidate has

had his/her identity verified by the MOOC provider and has successfully completed the

course(s) and received a Verified Certificate(s).

13. Online courses can provide a comparable learning experience to face-to-face courses. (1

= disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

14. Blended courses (part online, part face-to-face) can provide a comparable learning

experience to face-to-face courses. (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

15. Online or face-to-face courses with a large number of students (hundreds or thousands)

can provide a comparable learning experience to courses with smaller numbers of

students. (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

16. Students learn as much from independent study as from tuition-based courses. (1 =

disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

17. Credentials from a university (credits or a degree) reflect the job candidates level of

knowledge or skill (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

18. Credentials from a MOOC provider reflect the job candidates level of knowledge or skill

(1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

19. MOOC credentials (e.g. verified certificates from providers like Coursera, edX, and

Udacity) are comparable to university credits (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 126

The following questions ask you about your perspectives regarding massive open online course

(MOOC) credentials as they relate to potential employment in your school district. Please rate

your level of agreement with the following statements. (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly

agree).

For all the statements below, the term students refers to adult learners.

MOOCs are online courses offered by universities for free and may enroll thousands of

students at one time. Students may pay a small fee in order to receive a Verified

Certificate from the MOOC provider (e.g., Coursera, edX) which verifies their identity

and affirms their successful completion of the course.

Specializations are a series of MOOCs completed around a thematic concept or skill.

MOOC credentials and credentialed MOOC study mean that the job candidate has

had his/her identity verified by the MOOC provider and has successfully completed the

course(s) and received a Verified Certificate(s).

20. In general, if a job candidate had required clearances and certifications but MOOC

credentials instead of a bachelors degree, I would consider him/her for a position (1 =

disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

21. In general , if a job candidate had required clearances and certifications with MOOC

credentials and a bachelors degree, I would consider him/her for a position (1 = disagree

strongly, 5 = strongly agree)


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 127

22. In general, if a job candidate had required clearances, certifications, and a bachelors

degree but MOOC credentials instead of a masters degree, I would consider him/her for

a position (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

23. There are some jobs in my district for which MOOC credentials (but no bachelors

degree) would suffice (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

24. There are some bachelors degree level jobs for which MOOC credentials (but no degree)

would suffice (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

25. Credentialed MOOC study can be a substitute for a job candidate who does not have a

bachelors degree (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

26. Credentialed MOOC study can be a substitute for a job candidate who has a bachelors

degree but does not have a masters degree (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

27. Credentialed MOOC study can add value to a job candidate who already has a bachelors

or masters degree (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

28. Credentialed MOOC study tells me the job candidate is self-motivated. (1 = disagree

strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

29. Credentialed MOOC study tells me the job candidate is a lifelong learner. (1 = disagree

strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

30. Credentialed MOOC study tells me the job candidate has a deep interest in certain

content areas (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

31. Credentialed MOOC study tells me the job candidate has deep knowledge in certain

content areas (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

32. Credentialed MOOC study is an acceptable form of professional development (1 =

disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 128

33. Credentialed MOOC study in place of a bachelors degree would be acceptable for

teaching jobs within my school district (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

34. Credentialed MOOC study in addition to a bachelors degree would be acceptable for

teaching jobs within my school district (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

35. Credentialed MOOC study in place of a masters degree would be acceptable for teaching

jobs within my school district if the job candidate already possessed a bachelors degree.

(1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

36. Credentialed MOOC study in place of a bachelors degree would be acceptable for

technology jobs within my school district (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

37. Credentialed MOOC study in addition to a bachelors degree would be acceptable for

technology jobs within my school district (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

38. Credentialed MOOC study in place of a masters degree would be acceptable for

technology jobs within my school district if the job candidate already possessed a

bachelors degree. (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

39. Credentialed MOOC study in place of a bachelors degree would be acceptable for

business office jobs within my school district (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

40. Credentialed MOOC study in addition to a bachelors degree would be acceptable for

business office jobs within my school district (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)

41. Credentialed MOOC study in place of a masters degree would be acceptable for business

office jobs within my school district if the job candidate already possessed a bachelors

degree. (1 = disagree strongly, 5 = strongly agree)


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 129

Appendix B

Interview Protocol

1. What is your process for making hiring decisions?

2. Describe the role of credentials in your hiring decisions.

3. How do you determine requirements for job postings?

4. How do you evaluate university degrees in your hiring decisions?

5. How are online courses or degrees valued when reviewing a candidates background and

experience?

6. What alternative pathways exist for candidates who may not have a degree?

7. Many prestigious universities offer MOOCs on Coursera or edX. How would you view

MOOC credentials sponsored by these universities?

8. How would you view MOOC credentials compared to a bachelors degree from a

prestigious university?

9. How would you evaluate a job candidate who had extensive MOOC credentials but no

university degree?

a. For jobs in Business and Management?

b. For jobs in Education?

c. For jobs in Information Technology?

10. What are the benefits of credentialed MOOC study for potential job candidates?

11. What are the barriers of credentialed MOOC study for potential job candidates?

12. How could an individual with MOOC credentials get a bachelors level position within

your school district?

a. For jobs in Business and Management?


PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 130

b. For jobs in Education?

c. For jobs in Information Technology?

13. If you saw credentialed MOOC study on a candidates resume, what would that say to

you?

14. How do you see MOOC credentials impacting your hiring practices?

15. What other thoughts do you have regarding MOOCs as a pathway to employment?
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 131

Appendix C

Demographic Data

Gender
Cumulative
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Percent
Valid M 31 50.8 50.8 50.8
F 30 49.2 49.2 100.0
Total 61 100.0 100.0

Age
Cumulative
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Percent
Valid 2.00 10 16.4 16.4 16.4
3.00 21 34.4 34.4 50.8
4.00 21 34.4 34.4 85.2
5.00 9 14.8 14.8 100.0
Total 61 100.0 100.0

Hiring Duration
Cumulative
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Percent
Valid 0-5 12 19.7 20.0 20.0
years
6-10 22 36.1 36.7 56.7
years
11-15 8 13.1 13.3 70.0
years
15+ 18 29.5 30.0 100.0
years
Total 60 98.4 100.0
Missing System 1 1.6
Total 61 100.0
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 132

Education Level
Cumulative
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Percent
Valid Masters 40 65.6 65.6 65.6
degree
Doctoral 21 34.4 34.4 100.0
degree
Total 61 100.0 100.0

Online Course Participation


Cumulative
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Percent
Valid Y 37 60.7 61.7 61.7
N 23 37.7 38.3 100.0
Total 60 98.4 100.0
Missing System 1 1.6
Total 61 100.0

MOOC Participation
Cumulative
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Percent
Valid Y 10 16.4 16.4 16.4
N 51 83.6 83.6 100.0
Total 61 100.0 100.0

Has Seen MOOCs Listed on Rsums


Cumulative
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Percent
Valid Y 7 11.5 11.5 11.5
N 54 88.5 88.5 100.0
Total 61 100.0 100.0
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 133

Has Seen MOOC Verified Certificates Listed on Rsums


Cumulative
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Percent
Valid 1.00 8 13.1 13.1 13.1
2.00 53 86.9 86.9 100.0
Total 61 100.0 100.0

Self-Reported Role
Cumulative
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Percent
Valid Superintendent 7 11.5 11.7 11.7
Assistant 5 8.2 8.3 20.0
Superintendent
Technology 6 9.8 10.0 30.0
Director
Pupil Services 14 23.0 23.3 53.3
Director
Business 1 1.6 1.7 55.0
Manager
Curriculum 8 13.1 13.3 68.3
Director
Human 4 6.6 6.7 75.0
Resources
Director
Principal 15 24.6 25.0 100.0
Total 60 98.4 100.0
Missing System 1 1.6
Total 61 100.0
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 134

Hiring Areas
Cumulative
Frequency Percent Valid Percent Percent
Valid Business and 1 1.6 1.6 1.6
Management
Only
Education Only 38 62.3 62.3 63.9
IT Only 4 6.6 6.6 70.5
Education, IT 8 13.1 13.1 83.6
Business and 10 16.4 16.4 100.0
Management,
Education, IT
Total 61 100.0 100.0

Means of MOOC Familiarity


Std.
N Mean Deviation
Familiarity 61 2.6066 1.30740
with MOOCs
Familiarity 60 2.1667 1.16687
with MOOC
Verified
Certificates
Valid N 60
(listwise)
PERCEPTIONS OF MOOC LEARNING 135

Appendix D

Means of Survey Data by Item

Means of Survey Data by Item


N Mean Std. Deviation
ONLCOMPF2F 61 2.7541 .97734
BLNDCOMPF2F 61 3.8852 .91466
LARGECOURSE 60 2.1000 .79618
INDSTUDY 61 2.8689 .92151
CREDSREFLECT 60 3.2667 .86095
MOOCCREDSREFLECT 60 2.8167 .87317
MOOCCREDSCOMPUNI 61 2.5082 .80876
MOOCSREPLACEBACH 60 2.3000 .96199
MOOCANDBACH 61 3.6230 1.00273
MOOCREPLACEMSTRS 60 3.3833 1.00998
MOOCSFORSOMEJOBSNOBACH 61 3.1967 1.26253
MOOCSFORBACHLEVEL 61 2.5082 1.07429
MOOCSTUDYSUB 61 2.2787 .95098
MOOCSTUDYSUBMSTRS 61 3.0492 1.03965
MOOCSTUDYADDVALUE 60 4.0500 .90993
SELFMOTIV 61 3.5738 .95671
LIFELRNR 61 3.4590 .97594
DEEPINTEREST 59 3.6610 .90230
DEEPKNOWLEDGE 60 3.1333 .89190
MOOCS4PD 60 4.0667 .84104
MOOCS4EDUCNOBACH 61 1.3607 .65911
MOOCS4EDUCWITHBACH 61 3.3279 1.07581
MOOCS4EDUCNOMSTRS 61 2.9672 1.34123
MOOCS4ITNOBACH 60 3.0167 1.14228
MOOCS4ITWITHBACH 60 3.7167 1.00998
MOOCS4ITNOMSTRS 60 3.5500 1.24090
MOOCS4BUSNOBACH 60 2.6167 1.07501
MOOCS4BUSWITHBACH 60 3.4500 1.04840
MOOCS4BUSNOMSTRS 60 3.4000 1.15274
Valid N (listwise) 52