The Sky Is The Limit: MOOCs For Credit Or Learning?

Pam Tate from CAEL recently published this editorial in InsideHigherEd: The right path to MOOC credit?

Here are some essential questions she posed:

Are course evaluations and testing really the best or only way to deal with this new era of learning? What about experiential learning? If someone has college-level learning from their life experience is it invalid unless they take a course?

Tate proposes that  course-by-course  assessment may not be the best way to go, and that individual learning assessment via a portfolio may be a better approach. I couldn’t agree more, but I suspect our reasons are slightly different. My reason is about learning.

In the Heutagogy Community of Practice right now, we’re having a great conversation about the differences between learning, and between knowledge and skills acquisition. I think this is key to consider in the MOOC conversation, too. What kinds of learning are we interested in promoting in higher education? Surface, strategic, or deep? And then how do we design learning experiences to support the kinds of learning we really want?

Personally, I think the sky is the limit when we are talking about opening up access, in the way that MOOCs might, to learning. So why wouldn’t we go all the way?

The Sky is the Limit, photo by Harriet L. Schwartz with permission

The Sky is the Limit, photo by Harriet L. Schwartz with permission

MOOCs (specifically xMOOCs ) still seem to be all about delivering knowledge and skills acquisition; furthermore, now the hot topic is finding ways to “measure and credit” that learning (surface and strategic learning, but probably not deep learning), and ACE is doing it with the good old 20th century final exam. (Twelve steps forward for learning; 20 steps backwards for assessment!)

There’s a place for all three kinds of learning in our lives, of course, but if we leave deep learning development out of higher education, I think we miss a great collective opportunity, one that’s actually necessary for our modern global and technological society. As I often hear my colleague saying, I’m in higher education because ultimately I want to promote world peace. We can get closer to that via deep learning approaches. And deep learning approaches call for a different kind of assessment to support them.

This is why I’d much rather see a PLA portfolio-type process (reflect and integrate; learn and unlearn and relearn; articulate; clarify; analyze; identify significance; identify dissonance; MAKE MEANING!!! — these are key PLA verbs) for MOOC learning assessments than a final exam. A PLA-type process can deepen students’ learning  — can help learners construct knowledge and apply it to new situations, versus take it in and spit it out. In this way, assessment of learning  (prior or new, regardless of source) can serve to both measure and credit learning (assessment OF learning), but more importantly, to deepen learning and promote ongoing learning (assessment AS and FOR learning).

The sky is the limit when we are talking about opening up access to learning via MOOCs and other open resources. Why would we even think of stopping at the bottom rung?


One thought on “The Sky Is The Limit: MOOCs For Credit Or Learning?

  1. No question — portfolio over exam, especially since one has the potential for shared learning and reflection and the other is solitary.

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