Last week the NY Times reported that the Georgia Institute of Technology plans to offer a master’s degree in computer science through massive open online courses “for a fraction of the on-campus cost”. Further, “from their start two years ago, when a free artificial intelligence course from Stanford enrolled 170,000 students, free massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have drawn millions… in a tough electronics course offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But the courses have not yet produced profound change, partly because they offer no credit and do not lead to a degree. The disruption may be approaching, though, as Georgia Tech, which has one of the country’s top computer science programs, plans to offer a MOOC-based online master’s degree in computer science for $6,600 — far less than the $45,000 on-campus price.”
While this development may seem new and exciting, the truth is that Universities throughout the world have had the capacity to provide recognition – and thereby cheaper courses – for well over a decade.
I’m going to go so far as argue that xMOOCS or cMOOCS,or DOOCs don’t cause disruption. There have always been attempts to develop different formal learning models across time, and a MOOC is just one such attempt In the 1970s there was the open classroom, and in the 1980s there were learning circles both designed to disrupt institutionalised learning. The institution proved reluctant to change.
In the context of the digital age the willingness on the part of a university to provide credit is central to the disruptive project, but only if credit forms a broader strategy related to the recognition of prior learning in all its forms. I have argued elsewhere that a focus on credit packages – and this includes credit packages for MOOCS – merely shores up the power of credentialing institutions (those offering MOOCS, and those offering university credentials), and is institutionally focussed, not learner focussed as some advocates would have us believe. A true learner focussed approach would value not only a MOOC in a learners’ journey, but all other lifelong learning achievements as a package deal. But so doing threatens the business model of the university.
Since 2002 the Australian Qualifications Framework first provided impetus to Australian Universities to provide recognition for up to 2/3 of an undergraduate degree, and 50% of a postgraduate degree. The 2012 RPL Policy similarly provides a framework for the implementation of RPL. This means that any Australian University could save a student thousands of dollars through the recognition of prior learning, right now – today. The problem is a continuing reluctance on the part of Australian Universities to value the learning students bring – whether that be in the form of a MOOC, micro-credentials, lifelong learning, or workbased learning. Although every Australian University is required to have an RPL policy, and some Universities have great credit package arrangements (eg Charles Sturt University), research consistently shows lack of development in this area.
A genuine application of RPL in response to a learner’s evidence at undergraduate or postgraduate levels would mean that a MOOC ++ approach would be taken. Advanced standing would encompass all a learner’s evidence, not just the evidence that two institutions agreed they’ll allow by linking a MOOC and a Masters. I continue to be disappointed by the lack lustre responses being made by institutions to prior learning (MOOC or otherwise). PR attempts to tie a colourful bow around a narrow credit pathway between one MOOC and one course seems to achieve much less than is possible. In Australia at least adherence to the AQF RPL policy should be standard, and students should have the option of many pathways, and robust recognition of prior learning process that are respectful of the many distributed learning opportunities available in a digital age, work, and life.
*Image courtesy of auntsmack4u