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A University of Virginia MOOC has just been nominated for an Emmy. It’s (understandably) the first MOOC ever to get this award.

Okay, this MOOC is based off of (?) a TV documentary. That is to say, it is by the same prof, covers the same era, and features much of the same material. To me this begs the question of how the MOOC is different — that is, what makes this one ‘education’, while the documentary is entertainment, or at best edutainment.

Is it the graded component? MOOCs tend to feature quizzes and peer-reviewed writing assignments. But by that criterion, book clubs also deserve to be treated as worthy of credentials: they feature group discussion and analysis of a published (and hence expert) work. (In this regard, STEM MOOCs, which can offer a series of tests with right/wrong answers, are superior.)

If MOOCs continue to be touted as a way for under-served students across the world to gain a meaningful education, they need a better gatekeeping system. A group of 10 — or 10,000 — might be able to stumble towards a basic insight. But a good instructor can point to possible directions, explain pros and cons, and (yes) assess their abilities. It may be unpopular, especially in the tech set, but education does actually mean more than ‘sat through some lectures’.