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Decoding edX’s Newest Credential: Professional Certificate Programs

We take a look at what edX could be looking to achieve in launching “another” certificate program

What makes UC Berkeley’s Marketing Analytics an XSeries programs and not a Professional Certificate?

This is what I was wondering when, last month, edX announced yet another MOOC-based credential: Professional Certificate Programs. Depending on how you look at it, this makes it the third or fourth credential that edX offers.

MicroMasters, XSeries, and Professional Education

In September 2013, edX was the first provider to go beyond issuing single course certificates. They launched their XSeries program, which consists of a certificate gained from completing a sequence of courses.

In October 2015, edX and MIT piloted the MicroMasters credential in Supply Chain Management. In September last year, the MicroMasters credential was adopted by fourteen universities, which were located in eight different countries. The MicroMasters program grants credit that counts towards a Masters degree, if the learner who earned the credential is accepted into the on-campus program. You can read more about the MicroMasters program here: edX’s 2016: Year in Review

Somewhere in between, edX also added a Professional Education certificate. These are basically paid-only online courses, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

So when edX announced their Professional Certificate program, I was a bit confused; why another program, and how is this one different? Is “Professional Certificate” just a re-branding of XSeries?

Before we get into that, here’s a brief overview of the Professional Certificate program.

Professional Certificate Program

Currently, edX has announced fifteen different Professional Certificates programs. Here is a quick list (the numbers in the brackets next to the prices indicate the number of courses in the program):

  1. $397 (3): Virtual Reality (VR) App Development from UC San Diego
  2. $347 (3): Data Science for Executives from Columbia
  3. $198 (2): Retail and Omnichannel Management from Dartmouth
  4. $397 (3): Java and Android Foundation from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
  5. $175 (4): Inclusive Leadership from Catalyst
  6. $792 (9): Microsoft Professional Program in Data Science
  7. $1,550 (6): Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) from the New York Institute of Finance
  8. $1,399 (6): Project Finance and Public Private Partnerships from the New York Institute of Finance
  9. $1,895 (6): Risk Management from the New York Institute of Finance
  10. $264 (3): Six Sigma and Lean: Quantitative Tools for Productivity and Quality from Technische Universität München
  11. $198 (2): Agile Development Using Ruby On Rails from The University of California, Berkeley
  12. $596 (4): Computer Science Essentials for Software Development from The University of Pennsylvania
  13. $1,755 (3): Digital Marketing from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
  14. $505 (5): Front-End Web Developer from The World Wide Web Consortium
  15. $75 (3): Gestión Pública para el Desarrollo (Public Management for Development) from Inter-American Development Bank

Courses in three programs from the New York Institute of Finance, as well as Digital Marketing from Wharton, are paid-only (i.e. they have no free components; the courses in other programs are free). These programs are significantly more expensive than other programs, and they cost anywhere between $1,399–1,895.

Professional Certificate vs XSeries — A Rebranding?

The difference between Professional Certificate and the MicroMasters/Professional Education is pretty clear.

MicroMasters offer a pathway to credit that is roughly equivalent to one semester of a Masters program. I would expect MicroMasters to be more rigorous than a Professional Certificate. Professional Education is essentially just completely paid courses.

The difference between Professional Certificate and XSeries is not quite that obvious. They are both a sequence of courses created by universities and companies, and which offer a credential at the end.

What seems to separates these two is that the Professional Certificate is geared towards employment and professional training. In that sense, a Professional Certificate is just a subset of XSeries. In fact, a few of the Professional Certificate programs were originally launched as XSeries programs first (some with different names) — namely Data Science for Executives from Columbia, Inclusive Leadership from Catalyst, and Front-End Web Developer from The World Wide Web Consortium.

My take is that edX essentially rebranded a subset of XSeries to something that is easier to market/communicate to prospective students. Other credential names like MicroMasters, Nanodegrees, and Specializations are somewhat self-explanatory and can stand on their own. This is not true for XSeries.

“Professional Certificate” is self-explanatory, and it’s a very common term that’s been used for a long time. There is even a Wikipedia page for it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_certification. EdX’s Professional Certificate programs page is the first result when you search for the term on Google. Thats a big win for them.

Eventually, I would expect a few more XSeries programs to be re-classified as Professional Certificate programs, and that most of the newer programs will be launched under the Professional Certificate umbrella.

Dhawal Shah Profile Image

Dhawal Shah

Dhawal is the CEO of Class Central, the most popular search engine and review site for online courses and MOOCs. He has completed over a dozen MOOCs and has written over 200 articles about the MOOC space, including contributions to TechCrunch, EdSurge, Quartz, and VentureBeat.

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