The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton College of Business has just announced that they will put their entire first year course program on line for free, on the Coursera MOOC platform.
This is another breakthrough in MOOCville; for the first time a university is bundling all of the courses in an entire year of its diploma program in MOOCs. Students from all over the world can now take the entire first year Wharton MBA program, from the same professors delivering the courses on campus, for free. And those completing the courses will earn certificates of learning.
This in one more step in the process whereby MOOC certificates will eventually be aggregated, by universities or third party aggregators, and recognized as diploma equivalents.
Let us consider this case: a recent graduate of a major engineering college - say Stanford, Purdue or Georgia Tech - applies for an entry level management job at a high-tech firm. An individual MOOC certificate may not help very much, but a bundled set of Wharton MBA MOOCs tells quite a different story - that this graduate has the background knowledge, motivation and self-management skills to acquire the MBA knowledge base on his (or her) own.
The college or grad school diploma has been used as a job filter because it lowers transaction costs for employers. But as more and more people pass through the filter, the filter has become inefficient - it lets in too many people without strong capabilities. The diploma doesn't sufficiently differentiate its holders from others. And especially now that product cycles are rapid and skills erode quickly, employers are inevitably more interested in specific capabilities than the general knowledge represented by diplomas.
A single MOOC might not be useful as a job filter - after all, what, exactly, does it represent? But a bundled package of certificates from a leading university, representing a full complement of cutting edge knowledge and skill, would be a more efficient filter than a mere diploma.
In my view this progression from individual MOOCs to packages of certificates accepted as diploma equivalents in the hiring process is inevitable. It is a win-win-lose proposition. The firms will win, the students will win - only the Higher Ed sector currently monopolizing job access will lose.
We will not have to wait very long for this process to come to completion: leading high tech firms have recently formed an alliance to explore weighting packages of MOOC certificates as diploma equivalents in their hiring practices.