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Behind the Decision to Accept Credits for MOOCS

Behind the Decision to Accept Credits for MOOCS
The traditional, insular and proprietary approach to learning restricts students in artificial ways. Opening up MOOCs for credits is a way to expand learning opportunities for students.

Today’s educational landscape for adult learners is transforming as new opportunities based on greater access and affordability are gaining momentum and attracting thousands of learners from across the world. In 2012, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) exploded, with some courses enrolling more than 100,000 students. Discussions quickly switched to how this new model could be adapted into traditional, credit-bearing academic systems. Antioch University, through its LA campus, made headlines in the fall of 2012 as the first institution to bridge this gap.

In early October, Antioch University Los Angeles (AULA) initiated a pilot program to explore the viability of using MOOCs as a way to lower the cost and increase the flexibility of our undergraduate program. As the first step in this, Antioch University worked with the MOOC provider Coursera to allow students in this pilot program to use two of their courses, created by Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania, as part of an independent study option to earn credit. In doing so, Antioch University became the first institution to receive approval from Coursera to offer college credit for specified courses. Antioch University, which focuses on the needs of adult learners, is developing options that will allow students to receive credit for MOOCs they have previously taken with Coursera. We are also developing other models that integrate free courses as part of students’ continuing learning, such as classes associated with high school transition programs.

This news raised questions and concerns regarding Antioch University’s distinguished reputation. Doesn’t this jeopardize the integrity of Antioch University’s long history of quality, student-centered liberal arts programs? Isn’t this just a ploy to jump on the online bandwagon?

Our answer is that MOOCs, in one form or another, are here to stay. Further, thoughtful evaluation of each course as an individual entity—as opposed to MOOCs as an overarching generic category—has tremendous potential for all of us in higher education. Today’s learners demand more of their education, combined with the explosion of access to knowledge and resources all around us, requires colleges and universities to adapt to today’s virtual culture or risk becoming obsolete. As with any major innovation, we don’t know what the final outcomes will be, but we do know that the avenues opened by MOOCs provide new opportunities for high quality online learning that can be integrated into a traditional degree approach. We must examine new modalities of learning so higher education will continue to be relevant to new generations of learners.

As a small institution long associated with innovation and experiential learning, the opportunity to be nimble and take advantage of this latest development in online learning is exciting. Antioch was an early leader in recognizing that college-level knowledge and competencies can be acquired outside the classroom and traditional learning environment and created experiential learning options for students through cooperative learning and internship programs, as well as prior learning assessment (PLA). PLA allows students to request college credit by demonstrating evidence of college-level learning acquired through work, volunteer and other personal experiences. Valuing the integrity of what was learned, rather than debating how it was delivered, is consistent with our recognition of MOOCs as valid learning experiences to integrate into a student’s degree. We anticipate that many institutions will follow our lead and that MOOCs will become a well-recognized way to increase access and reduce costs, just as AP classes, CLEP examinations and PLA have previously gained acceptance and benefited students.

The opportunity to increase access to learning is also an aspect that higher education must embrace. Many MOOCs are taught by well-respected faculty from universities around the world, giving students the opportunity to gain a global perspective in a wide variety of fields that otherwise might not be available to them—at least not for credit. This represents a tremendous opportunity for students who are self-motivated lifelong learners. Indeed, why should institutions limit students’ learning to only what they can provide? This insular, proprietary approach to learning only restricts students in artificial ways, rather than finding ways to forge new paths to learning.

There is still much to be learned from our MOOC pilot project and we are just beginning to see glimpses of the possibilities ahead of us. However, we are confident that MOOCs offer a moment to be captured—a way for Antioch University to enhance the overall student experience through creative and quality learning opportunities that have already engaged hundreds of thousands of learners across the globe.