Alternative Accreditation & the MOOC

One of the longstanding questions around the MOOC movement is financial:  there is a great deal of venture capital locked up in Coursera, edX and Udacity, but none of these organizations have provided a methodology of ROI for its benefactors, choosing instead to focus on heartwarming anecdotes about the potential of global education (quick tangent — Aaron Bady has a great takedown of the MOOCmania over here, where he challenges Clay Shirky’s most recent article and pinpoints the MOOC hysteria as an easy mark, where MOOC can stand for any potential and the current system for all failings).  While philanthropy is not lost on MOOCs, venture capital is not traditionally so gregarious with its investments, so a way to pay back the investors must emerge.  And here is where speculation begins in a rampant earnestness (my favorite part of this article is where Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller nonchalantly focuses on scalability…reminds me of the SNL sketch for the Bank of Change where the CEO says his bank [that deals wholly in making exact change] turns a profit based on volume).

Will it be advertising?  Certifications or testing?  Career services?  Do the MOOC providers have any clue*?

*I read a lot of MOOC articles, and I notice the same stock images passed around via blogs on technology — a favorite of the Tech writers is the bespectacled twentysomething peeking over his laptop, eyes shooting to the side.  ENOUGH!  A man I greatly admire once told me to put images in my posts to break up the text; I agree, but I also believe in Eisenstein and the importance of montage, and am not going to take 10 minutes on Flickr to pull the same tired image as everyone else just because it’s out there and easy.  Somewhere here is a story about professionalism in an age of copyright and digital literacy.  Or maybe even MOOCs.

Any good critical pedagogue will tell you to look at the political, most notably the supplemental materials from President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, which discuss alternative means of accrediting institutions of higher education:

The President will call on Congress to consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.

The bold emphasis is mine, though I am not alone in finding it important; Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation sees the same outcome (from a very positive perspective).  I wish I could give extra focus to the word models, because the MOOC is model — a highly-pedigreed, deeply-pocketed model.  And it could make the perfect Hollywood story:  the intrepid educational visionaries, providing education of the highest quality and lowest cost to the nation, with students receiving credential/certification/degree for the work, at a cost covered by the amount of Pell grants.

I’m not just a naysayer.  I look at the above and think, “Huh.  Maybe I am wrong to be skeptical of this MOOC movement.  I mean, a lot of people are behind it, and higher education is way too expensive for way too little in return…”  But the Hollywood story plays out over two hours in a movie theater:  the history of higher education as an American right has roots of 160+ years, with ups and downs and ebbs and flows.  At one point the democratization of higher education was based in the ideals of high-quality democratic education for all citizenry regardless of socioeconomic status, a fight against the content-heavy, skill-based, rote educative practices accessible to the majority of citizens.  Current educational, technical and political ideology discusses education in these latter terms.  So while people might espouse the MOOC as the democratizing agent of education, such a term seems counter to that term’s meaning fifty years ago.

4 thoughts on “Alternative Accreditation & the MOOC

  1. Pingback: Alternative Accreditation & the MOOC | TRENDS IN HIGHER EDUCATION |

  2. Navaz Kerawalla

    Hi Rolin
    Until recently I had no idea about MOOCS. I have been looking into it and have become quite interested in the idea. My concern is about the validity and accreditation value attached to the courses. When a student successfully graduates from a university in a particular discipline, a hiring organization has a pretty good idea about the course work that the individual has completed. They can make certain assumptions about their candidates’ abilities and knowledge base.
    But, open online courses would not be very reliable. Assessments may not be reliable either. The main advantage of the MOOCs, that I see is the affordability. Yes, it does open up higher education for all who are motivated, but it may be a while before it parallels formal education.

    Are there MOOCs that actually replace accredited college courses ?
    Will that be something that we will see in the near future ?

    1. Rolin Moe Post author

      The problem of motivation is a big one in education. Motivated people are doing fine all by themselves…and when I say motivated, I mean the autodidacts, the intrinsic folks. These people predominantly do fine with school or without…but the stories of these people in faraway countries are what move the needle on MOOC reporting. Your comments about the private sector understanding a degree are actually the same arguments used in favor of the MOOCs, the argument going that colleges no longer are good barometers for success in a career, so let’s look at other options such as MOOCs or competency-based learning. That said, there are very few MOOCs that replace accredited college courses (as of now), and those are in very specialized locations for very specialized people. Will we see it in the future? Perhaps. It looked a lot more likely six months ago, though…today most people would say MOOCs will stay the way they are for higher education and the monetary side will focus more on post-baccalaureate education.


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