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College Credit for Massive Online Open Courses? It's Possible

Mar 15, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

Massive Online Open Courses, or “MOOC’s,” are online courses that offer instruction via video lectures, online documents, interactive sections on various social media sites, and other online resources. MOOC’s attract thousands—sometimes hundreds of thousands—of students from all over the world. They’re taught by professors, sometimes at some of the most prestigious universities in the world—such as MIT and Stanford University. And they’re free.

The only downside is that you don’t usually earn college credit for a MOOC. You can earn a digital badge that could serve as a basic credential for some employers that accept them. But in most cases, you can’t put the time you spend taking a MOOC toward your degree.

Until now.

The American Council on Education recently announced that it is recommending that five courses provided by Coursera, a company that offers MOOC’s from several different universities around the country, be offered for credit at traditional and accredited online colleges. This isn’t a mandate for universities—but many schools use American Council on Education suggestions to decide whether to grant credits for various nontraditional courses.

At the point of this writing, very few colleges offer credit for MOOC’s. However, with this recommendation, that could change. And if it becomes commonplace for colleges to offer credits for these classes, it could revolutionize higher education—making a college education more accessible to people all over the world. And while many colleges already put their own classes online for free in various frameworks, allowing a company such as Coursera to outsource their online instruction could potentially save colleges money.

There’s a downside, however. While taking a MOOC is free, earning credit for it might not necessarily be. The five courses approved by the American Council on Education for college credit would be free to take, but students who want the credit would have to pay approximately $100-$120 for identity verification, exam completion, transcripts, and other costs. Even so, this could result in significant cost savings for students at some schools.

The courses recommended for credit include “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution” and “Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach” from Duke University; “Algebra and Pre-Calculus” from the University of California, Irvine;  and “Calculus: Single Variable” from the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, Coursera offers over 200 courses from approximately 33 colleges nationwide, and is planning to apply for credit recommendations for more in the future.

How this will change higher education, however, depends on how colleges respond to these recommendations. Ultimately, each college will have to decide whether or not to grant credits for these classes—and it’s likely that college responses would be uneven. And it may be difficult for some colleges to determine the quality of classes to a degree they feel is adequate.

While many Coursera courses are taught by individual instructors, some are automated—and instructor participation is minimal. Some would argue that this is no worse than huge lecture-hall classes where students do not receive individual attention; some colleges, however, may struggle with the idea of offering credit for classes in that format.

Coursera has been fairly vigilant in policing its own courses, however. For example, not long before the American Council on Education made its announcement, Coursera halted an online course from one of its colleges because of technical difficulties in delivery.

It’s possible that Massive Open Online Courses will have a huge impact on education—if they can provide a convenient and inexpensive way for students to earn credit toward a degree. Big changes are already happening in the field of higher education because of online instruction—and if MOOC’s can be offered for college credit, more will be coming.


Michael Williams Over a year ago

World Mentoring Academy (a MOOC) offers Free 760+ courses, 170+ courses offering Univ credit from the College Board, Fed Gov, NYU-SCPS, TECEP, ECE test out & transfer options.(testing fee $80/course paid to CB, Fed Gov, NYU etc).

Students with debt, have moved back home, put off marriage/children/house-car purchases, starting businesses, etc.

With Student Loans at $1.2 trillion ($350 billion in 2004). If it continues at the current rate, The Student Loan financial system, will implode, leaving future students with no Loan options. If that happens (according to experts) 40% of the Universities that have been around for hundred's of years will close due to lack of students. This can't be good for our University/College's? We need to take pressure off this Student Loan system to keep it viable.

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