How are you keeping up with MOOC developments? If you are like me, you are probably feeling swamped and not a little overwhelmed by all the coverage and news about MOOCs. Here’s what I’ve come across over the last couple of weeks.

MOOCs as an entry to a degree program

Kim, J. (2013) Q&A with Randy Best on MOOC2Degree Inside Higher Education, January 24

Joshua Kim interviews the CEO of Academic Partnerships about its plan to underwrite MOOCs that will guarantee entry to a university degree program with institutions that have partnered with Academic Partnerships, so long as the students successfully pass an examination set by the institution at the end of the MOOC. This project will use Instructure’s Canvas as the platform. Eight universities have so far signed up. The MOOCs will be existing online courses in the degree program. Students will receive full credit for successful course completion.

In this model, a university makes its own, already designed online, for credit programs, open to anyone, and if students successfully pass the course, they become admitted to the full program. This is really a big step towards opening up previously highly selective institutions.

I think this is a very interesting model. I pushed for a somewhat similar model for graduate courses at UBC, whereby we offered an ‘open’ online certificate program, but pushed for students who succeeded to carry over the credits into a full masters program. I was unsuccessful – the Faculty of Graduate Studies insisted on students meeting graduate entry requirements – even though these ‘open’ students were getting the same or better grades than other graduate UBC students taking the same courses (the certificate courses were also available as credit courses to the full-time graduate credit students).

Institutions have unnecessary and often arbitrary restrictions to entry and any model that breaks this open is to be welcomed. This one is tied to learner performance, which is properly measured and assessed.

MOOCs for credit

Fain, P. (2013) As California goes? Inside Higher Education, January 16

San Jose State University has signed a deal with Udacity:

‘to create a pilot program of three online, entry-level courses that will cost students $150 to take and lead to university-awarded academic credits if passed….The university will cap enrollment at 100 for each of the three courses, with half of the slots going to students from San Jose State. Priority enrollment for the remaining 150 openings will go to high school and community college students, members of the military and.’ veterans, and wait-listed San Jose State students.’

My question is: why is this a MOOC? It’s not massive and it’s not open and it’s not free. This sounds very similar to many existing programs aimed at enabling more open access to otherwise ‘closed’ programs, such as prior learning assessment.

Preparation for challenge exams

California community colleges, faced with a shortfall of 500,000 place in its campus-based colleges because of state funding cuts, are considering:

creating examinations for remedial courses and core general education courses for an associate degree aimed at students who want to transfer to a California State University campus. Students could use MOOCs to prepare for challenge exams, and community colleges could steer them toward the free online courses. And MOOC providers could tailor their offerings to the exams and gateway courses.

Then what? Having passed the challenge exam, there are still no places on further courses.

The problem is that California is in a financial mess, and there is a lot of flailing around to find cheap ways of providing post-secondary education. MOOCs are seen as a possible answer, but the issues of quality, learner support and assessment for MOOCs are not going to be resolved by wishful thinking. For more on the California situation, see ‘California buzzing’, which suggests other, and in my view, better ways in which online learning can help.

One last comment

MOOCs are a very interesting development, and have some potential to bring about major changes in the post-secondary education system.

However, they are only a side show to most online educational developments. Many other interesting things are happening and these are being drowned out by the hysteria and hyperbole surrounding MOOCs. It seems any new development in online learning has to be called a MOOC to get any recognition (even if it is neither massive nor open).

We need to get back to a sense of proportion here. It’s not the number of enrolments that matters, but the learning that takes place. For-credit online programs have had to prove that students can learn just as well online as on campus. There is over 20 years experience of what works and what doesn’t in credit-based online learning that is being ignored in most (but not all) MOOC developments. Not a single MOOC has been able to demonstrate clear learning gains for the students (or a viable financial model, for that matter). When that happens, they deserve to be taken seriously. Until then, I suggest you focus on the real world.



  1. I am 64 this year. I have not taken a university course since being an MBA candidate in 1978. I never finished that degree because I purchased a small company. I had only two credits to complete with much of the work done. I am still self employed. Regardless, I am taking a course in history now for the enjoyment of learning. I took very few courses at university here in Canada that did not contribute to my business education. Now I am. It is a wonderful alternative to reading history books, watching documentaries on the television or even reading a novel. Based on the news articles I have read, I am not your target group but I have found it very beneficial to my well being. I hope this option remains available to me in the future.

    • Hi, Victor
      Great to hear from you. I’m really pleased you have found an appropriate MOOC for your needs. This is great.
      I agree, I think MOOCs really fill the kind of need and purpose you have for learning. For me, they are most successful as a modern form of educational broadcasting, with the chance for interaction with other similarly directed learners that is not so easily handled by broadcast television. I think MOOCs are also useful in technical areas for already well qualified people who just need to keep informed of latest developments in their field. So there are clear niches for MOOCs.
      My concern is that they are being unduly overhyped and seen as an alternative to other forms of education. We need to learn both their strengths and their weaknesses, and particularly where they can be of most value.
      I much appreciate your comment

  2. For me, the real message is at the end of this post: “It seems any new development in online learning has to be called a MOOC to get any recognition (even if it is neither massive nor open).”. I couldn’t agree more. I wrote a blogpost about this lastw eek (in Dutch): It’s about that with all the attention on MOOC’s it seems other big challenges around OER and open education are solved already (like quality issues of OER, sustainability and human factors preventing an uptake of OER). Still, we should not underestimate the change agent role of MOOC’s, but we should be aware to keep having OER in broader sense on the agenda.

    • Thanks for your comment, Robert.
      Yes, there are many different ways to open up education (and not just through OERs or MOOCs), and there needs to be more focus on these alternatives, (such as a well-funded public education system, more flexibility in university admission requirements, and flexible access for students through ‘conventional’ online learning). Although MOOCs fit well in a particular niche, they are drowning out all other discussions around open access in the popular media.

  3. Tony
    I had great hopes from MOOCs, rather only from edx Harvard MIT.

    But now everything is being called MOOC. Moocs became a mess .

    Outside of MIT and Harvard everything became a mess . Just sad .

    Experience talks .


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