Art of e-learning

Validation of Non-formal MOOC-based Learning


The report I co-authored for the EU, “Validation of Non-formal MOOC-based Learning: an Analysis of Assessment and Recognition Practices in Open Education” has at last been published. The study, referred to as OpenCred, began in May 2014, and originally aimed to find examples of recognition of open learning, for example, learning based on open educational resources or massive open online courses (MOOCs). A rework of the original draft was undertaken in late 2015 with substantial input from Anne-Christine Tannhäuser, in response to feedback from reviewers that the word “recognition” needed to be clarified in the report.

Some people use the term “recognition” rather loosely to refer to any form of credentialisation or certification awarded to a learner at any point in their learning journey, while others, including specialists in the field of recognition of prior learning, use the term specifically to refer to the process of validation of credentials by an educational institution or employer. This latter meaning implies a two-stage process – credentialisation, followed by recognition, usually by a different body, at a later stage. To avoid ambiguity in the OpenCred report, we distinguished between credentialisation and recognition as follows:

Credentialisation versus recognition of learning outcomes (Witthaus, Inamorato dos Santos, Childs, Tannhäuser, Conole, Nkuyubwatsi and Punie, 2016, p.6)

One of the main outcomes of the study was a model which describes elements of non-formal, open learning assessment using a “traffic light” metaphor. In this model, a MOOC can be analysed in terms of the extent to which the following six characteristics are present:

Open Learning Traffic Light Model (Witthaus, Inamorato dos Santos, Childs, Tannhäuser, Conole, Nkuyubwatsi and Punie, 2016, p.6)

The green rim of the hexagon indicates strong presence of each of the elements; the yellow layer indicates some presence, and the red inner core indicates little or no presence. Learners are in a better position to obtain recognition for their MOOC-based learning if the MOOC has all six elements in the green rim. For example, a MOOC learner who travels to a physical location to sit an invigilated exam, where their identity is verified, and who is awarded ECTS credits upon passing the exam, is already in a strong position to have those credits validated at a later stage. If the certificate they receive contains detailed information about the course contents and assessment procedures, all the better. If, in addition, the MOOC provider is known to other organisations in the sector through partnership and collaboration in professional networks, and if the quality assurance procedures used by the MOOC provider are transparent, it would be very difficult for another institution to justify not validating the learning.

It is hoped that the report will be of use to both MOOC providers and institutions/ employers that have to recognise prior learning, and will ultimately enable open learners to receive meaningful, life-changing acknowledgement of their learning achievements.

This post was edited on 4 April 2016 with a fuller description of the writing and editing process of the OpenCred report.


Witthaus, G., Inamorato dos Santos. A., Childs, M., Tannhäuser, A., Conole, G., Nkuyubwatsi, B., Punie, Y. (2016) Validation of Non-formal MOOC-based Learning: An Analysis of Assessment and Recognition Practices in Europe (OpenCred). EUR 27660 EN; doi:10.2791/809371. Available at: