Tuesday, July 9, 2013

MOOCs for credit - few takers so far

Any which way but loose... by Ian Wilson, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by Ian Wilson

When MOOCs first appeared there were many who criticized them for not offering university credits to successful students. The main providers like Coursera, Udacity, EdX etc only provided certificates of completion that were not educational hard currency and so the search began to find ways of offering MOOCs for credits. One of the earliest initiatives on this front was Colorado State University who offered successful MOOC students from Udacity the opportunity to complement their studies by paying to sit a supervised examination with the reward of university credits. The fees for this were a fraction of the price of taking the equivalent cost on campus and many thought that this would open up a new business model for higher education with major universities producing course content and structure and other universities offering validation and examination opportunities.

The Chronicle of Higher Education writes this week that the scheme at Colorado State has been a total flop so far with no students applying for MOOC validation in the past year: see article A University's Offer of Credit for a MOOC Gets No Takers. Although this sounds like a serious failure I think we should reserve judgement until we get statistics from other similar schemes and when the MOOCs for credit model is more mature. The question at the moment is whether current MOOC participants are even interested in credits; the Udacity students who had the option of going to Colorado State for examination were clearly not interested. A lot of stats I've seen indicate that most are already graduates and are studying out of interest and that MOOCs are mostly a part of lifeline learning rather than seriously competing against traditional higher education. Those of us involved in e-learning and education in general may feel that MOOCs have been hyped to death but out in "the real world" I'm not sure that so many people even know that MOOCs exist. The concept has not reached the people MOOCs are attempting to reach; namely those who have no access to higher education.

So what about MOOCs for credit? If we award credits we need learning outcomes, curriculum, assessment, examination, identity control, administrative requirements etc and once all that's in place isn't this really a regular online university course? I believe that there will be a massive growth in informal learning, encompassing MOOCs and many other forms, and that the demand for validation will increase accordingly but at the moment the demand for crossover (from MOOCs to formal credentials) is simply not there. Evolution takes time and the MOOC wave will develop into new structures and new opportunities but right now we need patience to let organisations try out different solutions.

This is a sentiment that is developed in an article from Inside Higher EdBeyond MOOC Hype, where leaders in higher education call on everyone to take a step back from the hype and examine the MOOC phenomenon more critically. It's too soon to make categorical judgements one way or the other but it is time for all parties to seriously examine the opportunities available.


  1. I was just mentioning this on another blog yesterday. People love to judge MOOCs based on superficial data without really trying to go deeper and understand what really makes them tick. For example, the low MOOC completion rates is one thing that people like to point out. What they really don't look at is the demographics of the people who take MOOCs. MOOCs draw a very diverse crowd, with the people all having different motivations for joining. Some people just want to dabble, some just want to use the material as a supplement to whatever choice of education they've taken, and then only some really intend to finish the MOOC. Just because there are many people who join MOOCs and don't finish them does not mean that MOOCs have not served their purpose. There are myriad reasons why people join them.

  2. Exactly. I don't believe MOOCs are there to replace anything, but they add to the options available to the learner. See even my previus post on MOOCs as self-service eating.