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?

Way-Finding, Delicacy, and Balance: The Oregon Edition

Thanks to lakewentworth on Flickr for making this Portland image available for use.

Thanks to lakewentworth on Flickr for making this Portland, Oregon image available for use.

Since October, I have been serving on the Credit for Prior Learning Advisory Committee of the State of Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission (wow – that’s a long title!). Dr. Larry Large of OAICU and I represent the independent colleges and universities, and we serve with colleagues representing community colleges, private for-profits, and the Oregon State University system.

So what’s this all about?

In short, in February 2012, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 4059 which “Directs  Higher  Education  Coordinating  Commission  to  carry  out  goals  relating  to  awarding  academic  credit  for  prior  learning  by  students.” The Bill has several goals, the two most significant being:

(a) Increase the number of students who receive academic credit for prior learning and the number of students who receive academic credit for prior learning that counts toward their major or toward earning their degree, certificate or credential, while ensuring that credit is awarded only for high quality course-level competencies;

(b) Increase the number and type of academic credits accepted for prior learning in institutions of higher education, while ensuring that credit is awarded only for high quality course-level competencies;

Read our 2012 report HERE.

As you can imagine, I am pretty excited about this Bill and the opportunities it will create to recognize and reward learning that students bring with them to college. I am also learning a lot — about the state legislative process, about people’s perceptions of CPL and PLA, and about what I need to advocate for (which I’ve written about ad nauseum).

Also, I recently reviewed the 2013 Horizon Report and several trends (starting on page 13) stood out to me as relevant to our CPL conversation, especially these:

  • The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators.
  • Assessment and accreditation are changing to validate life-long learning.
  • Both formal and informal learning experiences are becoming increasingly important as college graduates continue to face a highly competitive workforce.
  • Open is a key trend in future education and publication, specifically in terms of open content, open educational resources, massively open online courses, and open access.

CPL and PLA are going to be ever-important practices in the 21st century world of open learning, as Conrad proposes in this article, Assessment challenges in open learning: Way-finding, fork in the road, or end of the line?

This paper proposes that the adaptation of a rigorous RPL assessment process, modeled on some processes in operation at various post secondary institutions around the world, could offer a solution to the open learning assessment issue, a solution that would be academically viable, reputable, and sufficiently constructivist-oriented so as not to negate the energy and spirit already exercised by open learners. A delicate balancing act? Perhaps so, but in times of rapid, important, and disruptive change, both delicacy and the need for balancing abound. (p. 44)

Oregon is way-finding — and in doing this important work on behalf of Oregon learners, we need to remember that there already exist pedagogically sound CPL frameworks and practices that actually support deepening students’ learning. Icing on the credit cake. Let’s take a bite!

Post-Traditional Learners and Prior Learning Assessment: The Practice of Learning

They used to be called “adult learners;” a recent report by the American Council on Education (written by Louis Soares) calls them post-traditional learners:

Post-traditional learners have been a growing presence in America’s postsecondary education institutions since the late 1970s. In fact, by many measures these “non-traditional” students have become the norm in postsecondary education. But post-traditional learners are a diverse group. The term encompasses individuals with a range of education needs from high school graduates to high school dropouts and those with limited literacy and English language skills. Post-traditional learn- ers also encompass many life stages and identities; they are single mothers, immigrants, veterans, and at-risk younger people looking for a second chance. (page 2)

No doubt the ACE report is a bit self-serving; ACE has a lot to gain in helping post-traditional learners complete degrees. Here’s what the report says about Prior Learning Assessment:

While the MOOC discussion is inspiring excitement and trepidation, the important element to consider is the emergence of a set of entities which are capable of evaluating different learning experiences for credit-worthiness. Thus far this competency has been largely used at the margins of postsecondary education, not surprisingly because it is closely associated with the characteristics of post-traditional learners. MOOC initiatives could be the accelerant that moves these organizations to scale in mainstream postsecondary education delivery.

The investment of $500 billion in education outside the academy, the rise of corporate universities, and the expanded interest in prior learning assessment are all pointing to the emergence of an ecosystem for validating learning that encompasses and supersedes the academy. (page 11)

In this post-traditional world, I would like to see PLA be an integrative force for past, present, and future learning experiences regardless of source, not just “prior” learning. I would like to see PLA less as a validating process and more of a “meaning-making” and “making learning visible” process. I would like to see PLA be a heutagogical practice (I believe many PLA programs already are), facilitating double-loop learning and self-determined learning, and supporting the development of capable and competent learners!

The combination of praxis and reflection on experience and learning is powerful and significant for post-traditional learners in a post-traditional world defined by constant change. In this vein, PLA wouldn’t even be called PLA — it would be simply be called “the practice of learning.”

Bookmark: Living In A World Of Motion

There were three notable chapters in my book this week, and I placed a bookmark on the page with the paragraph that wove them all together in a lovely way.

Chapter One: Last night I returned from an accreditation team training, and the theme of most of our discussion in the meeting (as well as the discussion on the airport shuttle bus) was “change in higher education.”  We watched this video to provoke our thinking:

Chapter Two: I have been collaborating with a new wonderful set of colleagues — Lisa Blaschke, Stewart Hase, and Chris Kenyon — to design and launch an international Community of Practice focusing on advancing the theory and practice of heutagogy. And if there’s one thing heutagogy is about, it’s about learning and change. (An aside: we’ve not launched yet, but when we do, here’s our Twitter handle: @HeutagogyCoP)

Chapter Three: I am teaching our PLA Seminar: From Experience to Learning this term. I’ve connected with wonderful, amazingly smart and caring adult learners, many of whom are starting to write about their own learning experiences and challenges with change in their PLA essays. (Have I mentioned that I really love teaching this course? I wish I could do so more often!)

book3dBookmark: I just finished devouring Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change.

These three chapters of my week converged when I read this paragraph from the book’s chapter titled, “Embracing Change:”

Change motivates and challenges. It makes clear when things are obsolete or have outlined their usefulness. Bot most of all, change forces us to learn differently. If the twentieth century was about creating a sense of stability to buttress again change and then trying to adapt to it, then the twenty-first century is about embracing change, not fighting it. Embracing change means looking forward to what will come next. It means viewing the future as a new set of possibilities, rather than something that forces us to adjust. It means making the most of living in a world of motion.

The book reflects a lot about learning in online community-based gaming – which I know next-to-nothing about. But now I think I’d better learn. (GULP! I never thought I’d say that!)

(Unless, of course, Pinterest provides the same experience, by any chance? Because I’m getting really good at learning with Pinterest!)

To Africa

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

In October, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Kenya to facilitate a week-long faculty and staff workshop about Prior Learning Assessment at Tangaza College in Nairobi.  I am grateful to my colleagues at the School for New Learning of DePaul University for inviting me to participate!

In a bookstore in Nairobi, I purchased Beryl Markham’s autobiographical account of her time in Africa titled West with the Night.  Here’s a particularly relevant and poignant paragraph that captured my attention:

“There are as many Africas as there are books about Africa — and as many books about it as you could read in a leisurely lifetime. Whoever writes a new one can afford a certain complacency in the knowledge that his is a new picture agreeing with no one else’s, but likely to be haughtily disagreed with by all those who believed in some other Africa. … Being thus all things to all authors, it follows, I suppose, that Africa must be all things to all readers. . . . Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. ”
― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Read more about my trip here: Out to Africa

Scholars Of Their Learning

I’ve been attending this year’s IUPUI Assessment Institute and had the pleasure of attending Kathleen Yancy’s keynote about ePortfolios. Several tidbits that I hurriedly scribbled down have had this nog prattling, including this big whopper:

Learners’ reflection on their collection of artifacts — and the relationship among those artifacts (versus the artifacts as atomistic indicators of learning outcomes) — help our learners become scholars of their own learning.

And I thought:

Scholars of their own learning …

Scholars of their own learning!!!

Scholar’s Desk at Yu Garden, Shanghai – thanks to amy_mcgill on Flickr for making this image available!

HEY WAIT — THIS IS WHAT PRIOR LEARNING ASSESSMENT DOES!

(We just haven’t ever called it that!)

In PLA, students reflect on the collection of their learning experiences as well as evidence of these experiences (their collection of artifacts), as well as how these experiences and artifacts collectively and holistically their attainment of the learning outcomes of a course for which they are trying to earn credit. And during this process, they take perspective on their learning; they examine it; they question it; and they make new meaning from it. They become scholars of it!

And ya ya, they can earn credit too. And save money. And decrease their time to degree completion. And all that.

BUT what’s important is that they become scholars of their own learning!

Yancy also spoke of the three main activities in higher education:

  1. Curricular activities
  2. Co-curricular activities
  3. Extracurricular activities

And I thought there was one missing: lived-and-living curricular activities. You know — the stuff that has happened (or is happening) to us and our students external to our institutions. As Lindemann (1961) pointed out, “Experience is the adult learner’s living textbook.” Oh yes it is! (And of course this isn’t limited to adults; younger students have lived-and-living curriculums too.)

I don’t know why I never had this lightbulb moment before, but listen to our students and you’ll hear this over and over! They have become scholars of their own learning.

How. Awesome. Is. That?

Education: A Lifelong Process Of Self-Examination

Richard Seymour, an Organizational Communications  major, recently completed his 27-credit Prior Learning Assessment Portfolio!  In writing his essays,Richard dug deep and reflected on experiences from his personal and professional life that resulted in new meaning and learning for him.

His essay topics included:

  • Negotiation
  • Great Meetings
  • Managing Transitions
  • Organizational Cultures
  • HR for the Career-Minded Professional
  • Effective Listening
  • Small Group Communication
  • Team Building: Managing Work Groups
  • Intercultural Communication

In his Final Reflection Essay, Richard wrote: “Going forward, I hope that the entanglement I have between my prior learning and the new learning becomes even more intertwined. Because education is and should be a continuous and lifelong process of self-examination, as well as an investigation into the world around us.”