David P. Lewis
Yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education carried an interesting story regarding the possibility that MOOCs may soon be eligible for college credit.
MOOCs are massive open online courses that the general public can register for and take for free. Offered by companies such as edX (a non-profit, joint venture of Harvard and MIT), Coursera and Udacity, the popularity of MOOCs has exploded over the past year and they have provided consistent fodder for discussions regarding the future of higher education (while not discussing MOOCs specifically, this recent article nicely summarized three competing viewpoints on the future of higher education, including one that holds that online technology will drive higher education costs to zero in the next ten years).
One of the issues with MOOCs is whether students could ever receive credit as part of a degree program for having taken them. The Chronicle story notes that the American Council on Education will be undertaking a study to determine whether it should include certain courses offered by Coursera in its College Credit Recommendation Service (which generally certifies non-traditional training courses for college credit). According to the article:
The review process by the council will be “similar to the way regional accreditation works,” said Molly Corbett Broad, president of ACE. Professors will look at the content, teaching methods, “evidence of student engagement,” and other elements of MOOC’s to see if they appear equivalent to that taught by an accredited college, she added.
Among the issues ACE will look at will include how student identity is authenticated and how exams are proctered to limit opportunities for cheating.
There is some evidence that colleges, particularly those that regularly accept transfer credits, will view MOOCs in a similar fashion. Others expect that MOOCs will eventually be accepted by all schools. As Josh Jarrett, deputy director for postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation notes in the article, ”MOOC’s may be the next generation of AP courses” and provide high school students with a way to get a jump on college.
If MOOCs do achieve credit status, that will go a long way toward solving another issue with MOOCs, which is how to monetize them. One path forward in this regard has been shown by Straighterline, a company that, for low membership and per course fees, provides hundreds of online courses that transfer for full credit at accepted colleges.
This is an area in which companies will continue to innovate and, with the continuing increase in higher education costs and related debt levels, changes to the traditional structure of higher education seem more likely than ever.