MOOC Recognition: In Australia’s Hands

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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

The Gates Foundation Funds MOOC Research Initiative

Bill Gates. Co-Chair and Trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) was announced this week. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation via Athabasca University, the MRI is “part of a set of investments intended to explore the potential of MOOCs to extend access to postsecondary credentials through more personalized, more affordable pathways” according to the funding website. The MRI is interested in providing access to postsecondary credentials to “low-income and disadvantaged young adult populations”. It is also interested in fostering research about “more affordable pathways”.

ADFI has a current Call for Book Chapters for Open Learning and Formal Credentialing in Higher Education: Curriculum Models and Institutional Policies that offers an opportunity to scholars to publish about the relationships between open learning opportunities and formal credentialing. Some of the same authors may be interested in the funding opportunity provided by the MRI.

While institutions, designers and scholars argue, design, innovate, and publish in the context of cMOOCs, xMOOCs and newer designs like MOOPhDs, it’s good to step back and ask “What’s in it for learners?” After all, some MOOCs argue that their Raison d’être is to maximise student-centeredness, user-generated content, and socially connected learning in a digital age.

It’s time to consider MOOCs – whether open or commercial – from the perspective of a learner’s lifelong learning. MOOCs are one of many formal, informal and incidental learning opportunities that a leaner might utilise. A student’s journey may include a cMOOCs, xMOOCs, formal and informal workbased learning, non-accredited short courses, micro-credentials such as badges, formal enrolled studies (vocational and university), lifewide learning and so on.  Learners now have many opportunities to personalize and build evidence of learning of value to postsecondary credentials – but only if institutions develop recognition practices that value what they bring.

For this reason, we hope that some of the funding about MOOCS via the MRI will focus on MOOCs-in-context of the personalized learning journeys of individual students. This isn’t just a question about learning pathways. It isn’t just about “credit for MOOCs”. It isn’t about how a university might aggregate different MOOCs through a “bolting together” approach with a focus on course content. It is about the sector developing the capacity to focus on the learner-in-context, to interpret evidence in relationship to learning outcomes, and to articulate what “equivalence” means in the context of postsecondary credentials. This is very much an intellectual challenge about whose knowledge counts, where, and why; how it is evidenced; how institutions transform their relationships to personalized learning in a digital age.

Hopefully the following MRI focus question will generate research about MOOCs-in-context and lead to transformative thinking about the relationships between MOOCs (open and commercial); the many other forms of open learning; and credentials for learners.

  • What institutional, pedagogical, learning design, technological, and business models are currently employed and which have the most potential to have a positive effect for our learner population?

Image credit: “The Thinker” by Steve Jurvetson via a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license