Wed 19th July 2017 - 10:35

Advantages of recognition for open courses

Having recognition for open courses can serve as a motivating tool for learners. It can reassure them that the learning outcomes acquired during the course are not only visible to themselves but can be used for finding a job or enrolling in further courses of education. Yet, recognition of open courses is a topic of much debate among educators.

Many argue that recognition is not necessary because employers and educational institutions can directly access the content of courses, and therefore get first-hand information about the knowledge, skills and competences that a learner has acquired from a course. However, others argue that recognition provides a way to vouch for the learning outcomes acquired – an important issue according to international organisations such as the European Commission, the OECD and UNESCO, which reflects the broader challenges related to the recognition of face-to-face non-formal learning in general.

In this publication we will cover the types of recognition, their advantages and challenges.

3 ways to recognise open courses 

Certificates for open courses tend to certify the completion of a course. For example, the platform iversity offers statements of participation upon completion of a course

Providing credits for open courses is an increasing trend. One important condition of credit allocation is that these are allocated by partner universities rather than the platform itself. For example, some British universities are providing credits for FutureLearn.

Badges have the advantage of containing metadata embedded in the image, which provides further evidence of the learner’s acquired languages, skills and competences. Badges can be created and allocated through open platforms such as OpenBadges.

Advantages to recognition

As some companies hire people without traditional degrees, recognition of open courses offers employers a way to obtain further information on the competences, skills and knowledge acquired. For example, nanodegree certifications (which are earned in 6-12 months and teach basic programming skills), run by US Udacity and AT&T, tend to be recognised as providing access to entry-level programming and analyst positions at IT and telecoms companies, especially in the US. 

Recognition can provide learners with a level of confidence in what they have achieved and what they can present as the result of their participation in an open course. It also helps to set standards achieved for a certain course. However, these standards do not necessarily correspond to a similar framework across providers.

The challenge of MOOCs is accreditation

The lack of commonly agreed standards is a big challenge faced by MOOCs, in particular when it comes to liaising with universities. Historically, universities have been hesitant to recognise learning outcomes from open courses. This could be down to the lack of accreditation and quality assurance processes related to online courses and the wish to retain control on the degree awarding process. Traditional universities tend to emphasise the need for a face-to-face presence or face-to-face exams for further recognition.

However, universities have a lot to gain from partnering with platforms to recognise online courses. An online course can help attract not only more students but also a broader base of students who could be interested in taking face-to-face courses after completing a short course online. This is an argument which has convinced many leading universities to take part in online courses.

Additionally, smaller universities can use a recognised element of an online course to complement its capacity and teaching portfolio.

The importance of recognising online courses has many advantages for learners, universities and employers. Its value has been underlined by various international organisations. Universities should see online courses as a tool rather than a competition and not hesitate to partner with online platforms to recognise MOOCs.

To conclude, the different perspectives from various stakeholders suggests that a joint initiative is needed to define accepted standards. The European Union could also play a role in devising a recognition framework for online courses for institutions.


iversity was founded in 2011 with aims to make higher education more accessible, personalised and affordable.

iversity is a European-based online education platform which offers Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS). Users can access courses on the platform for free. However there is an exception for PRO-courses which are the professional development courses.  

To improve recognition and employability, Iversity provides cooperation with higher education institutions through online brokering to allow for more transparency (they offer a certificate: a document explaining the learning outcomes of the course), offering MOOCs for ECTS credits if HEIs wish to allocate credits for courses. People have to be present to sit exams in compliance to German law that Iversity operates under.

To date Iversity has over 750,000 registered users and over 1 million course enrolments.


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