Credentials and the future of education: Key insights from the Administrator Track at the 2018 Coursera Partners Conference

Credentials and the future of education: Key insights from the Administrator Track at the 2018 Coursera Partners Conference

By: Cathryn Richter, Senior Partnership Manager

The 2018 Coursera Partners Conference convened at Arizona State University last week, and credentialing was top of mind as Coursera announced six new degree programs and the pilot of a new product: the MasterTrack™ Certificate. Leaders from Coursera’s partner institutions gathered in the Administrator Track (AT) sessions to discuss the benefits and challenges of taking MOOCs to the next level.

#1 Putting Master’s degree learning within reach

After announcing our new pilot of MasterTrack™ Certificates with the University of Michigan and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, partners packed the Administrator Track room for Co-Creating the Future: Building New Credentials on Coursera. James DeVaney from the University of Michigan shared his motivation to co-build the certificate, and Adam Fein from the University of Illinois shared his team’s desire to build on the success of the modular programs they already offer on Coursera. Both discussed the value of a modular sub-degree credential that allows learners to access valuable career skills as they test out the option to enroll in a degree program. We know that learners value opportunities to apply their knowledge with real-world projects, and these programs will allow students to do so before they commit to a degree program. In table discussions, we heard a lot of exciting ideas about ways to develop more modular programs. Multiple attendees highlighted that MasterTrack™ Certificates open up new opportunities for their institutions.  

James DeVaney (University of Michigan) and Adam Fein (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) share their strategies in offering MasterTrackâ„¢ Certificates.

#2: Innovation in microcredentialing has been happening for years

Higher education institutions have been exploring ways to unbundle and re-bundle credentials for years. In another session called Experiments with Microcredentials, moderated by the University of Colorado’s Deborah Keyek-Franssen, partners shared how they use Coursera and other platforms to offer sub-degree credentials.

Gavin Bradley from the University of Alberta described building off of Dino 101, the school’s flagship MOOC, to offer credit to on-campus students that’s required to take one of four Paleontology courses. Students are given proctored exams on campus following the completion of the course.

Providing an industry partner perspective, David Leaser shared the absolute necessity for IBM to offer unique digital badges. Evolution of the market, including rapid changes in technology and the gig economy, pushed IBM to offer badges through their online courses. Their enrollments tripled after they launched this feature.

David Leaser (IBM) and Gavin Bradley (University of Alberta) share how their organizations offer badges and credit for skill-based content.

#3: The degree continues to be the most transformational credential

Representatives from our six new degree programs sat together on another panel titled, High Quality at Scale: Breakthrough Innovations in Online Degrees. While each person shared their unique reasons for pursuing a degree on Coursera, a common refrain was shared: the degree remains the standard for academic achievement. Coursera partners want to provide degrees through more flexible, affordable, and accessible means to learners around the world.

Panelists shared their institutional goals, including the ability to reach learners they may not have been able to serve another way. Touching stories about non-traditional learners were shared, such as Nelson Mandela’s legal study through a University of London distance learning program while he was imprisoned on Robben Island. The room agreed: if the degree is the gold standard, we must find a way to provide access to it at a broader scale.

From left to right: John Hart (University of Illinois), Phil Regier (Arizona State University), Marco Gillies (Goldsmiths, University of London), Anjuli Gupta (Coursera), Helen Ward (Imperial College London), Robin Ajdari (HEC Paris), Sharon Kardia (University of Michigan)

#4 Collaboration is the way forward

In another session focused on collaboration, partners from both academia and industry discussed ways to co-develop applied learning experiences to serve learners adapting to the need for new skills.

On day two, representatives from leading organizations like Goodwill and Adobe as well as critical multinational programs like the UNDP and shared how learning experiences provided by Coursera partners are transforming their organizations. They highlighted their increased ability to upskill and retain their talent.  

Additionally, Sonya Francis from Goodwill highlighted how her organization is collaborating with Google to provide scholarships to the Google IT Professional Support Certificate for populations in need.

Sonya Francis (Goodwill), Rick Levin (Coursera), Justin Mass (Adobe), Allan de Venecia (, and Marvin Hoff (UNDP)

As we work to launch these exciting new programs, we look forward to continuing to partner with innovative teams at our partner institutions. Together, we can bring the best education and credentials to anyone, anywhere.

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