Monday, June 6, 2016

When does a MOOC become a regular online course?

What's the difference between a MOOC and a regular online course? The answer seemed obvious a couple of years ago and most institutions made it very clear that the two should not mix. MOOCs had no entry requirements or tuition fees and only gave certificates of completion, often without even the logo of the university on the certificate, to ensure that they should not be seen by employers as university qualifications.  Today, however, as more and more universities are offering MOOCs for credit by offering proctored examinations either on a campus or online, the two forms are beginning to merge. In addition the main consortia are packaging courses into specialisations or nanodegrees with graded final project assignments that lead to new forms of credentials that are not credit equivalent but may form a new layer of credentials below degree level.

University of Leeds and the Open University recently announced that they will be offering MOOCs for credit through the FutureLearn consortium according to an article in the Guardian, Moocs to earn degree credits for first time in UK at two universities. This will costs you a bit but less than taking the course on campus.

To complete programmes that attract an academic credit or offer a qualification, students may have to pay and pass an assessment module. Universities will award credit against the grade achieved which will then count towards a degree ... In the Leeds offering, for example, each course certificate will cost £59 and there are five taught courses; the sixth assessment course, which leads to 10 credits, is priced at £250 – making a total cost of £545 – which will also cover access to online library content.

Arizona State University have a scheme called Global Freshman Academy on the EdX platform giving students the chance to replace their first year of study with a selection of MOOCs and those who pass can then apply to start their campus programme from the start of year two. Here we see MOOCs doing the job of regular online courses so where's the difference? The outcomes and content are converging but the openness of application process is what differentiates the two forms. ASU are opening up entry to study by allowing anyone to start their MOOCs and then seeing who succeeds before accepting them on to year two. Similar thinking lies behind the two UK examples.

Basically regular for-credit courses are starting to absorb some of the MOOC concept. The effect could be that students will be able to test higher education by taking a selection of first year courses and deciding during the course whether they want to take the examination for credit. The selection process is thus moved to the the end of each course. Many will still choose to complete the course without credit as pure competence development whilst others will opt for credit and continue towards full-time study. The entry to university studies can either be a full commitment from the start with full-time campus studies from year one but also an alternative path that is more open and flrxible and most importantly less expensive. Four year campus studies is simply too expensive in many countries and inconvenient for many older students who do not wish to move from their home areas due to work and family. For them any way of cutting the time on campus and increasing flexibility is very welcome.

I expect to see more for-credit courses taking a MOOC approach to recruitment by opening up admission and then allowing the most motivated the option of paying to take the examination. This doesn't mean that regular online courses will simply become like MOOCs but they will adopt some of features just as MOOCs (or whatever they will be called in the future) will adopt many featurs of regular courses. The interest in MOOCs as pure lifelong learning will continue but only if the institutions providing them can find a sustainable financing model and an alignment with the mainstream would seem the safest route.

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