Published on 2020/03/20

The EvoLLLution | Transforming Online Learning: Moving from MOOCs to Microbachelors
Microbachelors have the ability to bridge the gap between MOOCs and credit-bearing education, but stakeholders need to have a clear plan first.

Higher education may be used to MOOCs, but a newer, more flexible model is emerging. As credit-bearing education is becoming more favourable, microbachelors may be the answer to transferring to this new way of earning a degree. But what does it take for this transfer to happen? Can institutions do it on their own? In this interview, Jeffrey Harmon discusses microbachelors and how Thomas Edison State University is transforming their online learning. 

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What is the value of microbachelors? 

Jeffrey Harmon (JH): Higher education and MOOCs have a mixed history. To date, a few credit-based MOOCs have emerged; however, real transformation has not yet occurred.  microbachelors are potentially the next iteration in online learning that may bridge the gap between the MOOC world and credit-bearing education.  Thomas Edison State University (TESU) is evaluating the first microbachelors from NYU offered through edX.  Given TESU’s recognition of collegiate learning wherever and however it may occur, the microbachelor initiative could prove transformational in online learning.

Evo: What are the benefits of institutions working together to create microbachelor programs?

JH: The real value of inter-institutional collaboration around microbachelor development lies in the ability to thoughtfully combine learning experiences from a wide array of higher education institutions to form a full degree program.  With edX’s diverse partnership pool, and through a consistent evaluation of collegiate learning conducted by TESU, students from around the globe may assemble a bachelor’s degree. They’ll have the ability to choose from the best that higher education has to offer and not be limited to selecting only one institution as the sole provider of their education.

Evo: How are accumulated credits from multiple institutions valued in order for a student to achieve a degree?

JH: Since 1972, TESU has been awarding degrees based on the accumulation of credit earned in a variety of ways and from a variety of sources.  TESU was founded upon a principle that is as true, if not more so, today as ever before. That principle being that the journey of education takes many twists and turns and is no longer linear.  Students, specifically adult students, who are employed and managing all of life’s challenges needed higher education to recognize that college-level learning takes many forms and can happen in many places.  TESU was founded to fill that need and continues to do so today through test options, military and workplace training evaluation, transferring credits between accredited institutions and now, potentially, through edX microbachelor programs.

Evo: What is needed from partner institutions for this collaboration to work?

JH: The microbachelor collaboration requires higher education institutions and edX to work together to envision a pathway to a bachelor’s degree. This pathway has certain requirements and, while it does afford some flexibility, academic quality and rigor remain at the forefront of the endeavor.  Program learning outcomes and strong assessment methods are critical to ensuring appropriate quality within this program.  As such, transparency and communication between collaborators is a necessity…along with a positive and innovative attitude!

Evo: What are the challenges in launching and maintaining collaborative programs?

JH: Innovation, or perhaps disruptive innovation (Clayton Christiansen) has always proved challenging in higher education. New ideas are typically met with resistance and skepticism. However, through decades of experience as a recognized leader in transfer credit evaluation and learning experience assessment, TESU plans to engage in this pioneering initiative, bringing to the table all of our various skills and strengths in and around the evaluation of learning.

Evo: What affect does transferable credits/programming have on enrollment and revenue growth?

JH: The spirit of the microbachelor endeavor is that of making education accessible. Through evaluation and the potential recognition of microbachelor programs for credit, TESU hopes to close the distance between hundreds, or even thousands, of students and their dreams of earning a recognized credential.  TESU may see an increase in enrollment through this initiative, or students may simply elect to receive a TESU transcript reflecting their earned microbachelor and move on to other educational programs. Students may also choose to use their documented learning as evidence in support of career advancement.  Either way, Thomas Edison State University’s mission is fulfilled as it seeks to “provide distinctive undergraduate and graduate education for self-directed adults through flexible, high-quality collegiate learning and assessment opportunities.”

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