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University of Wisconsin Embraces "Stuff Learned" Model


Is the University of Wisconsin going to do away with the credit-hour model? Perhaps not, but it’s taking a big step in that direction. This fall, the university system is beginning to accept applications for a new program called the “Flex Option,” which dispenses with credit-hours entirely. Essentially, rather than paying to take individual courses, students pay a flat fee to receive unlimited access to the full range of course materials and advisors for a fixed period of time. During that time they can take “competency tests” for credit.

If the program works, it could allow motivated students to learn more and rack up credentials in a much shorter period of time. Fast Company reports:

In theory, students could wrap up an entire degree in three months without touching any official course material—perhaps because they chose to get their learning elsewhere or already know most of the required information through their professional careers. There will also be a cheaper $900 option for students who want to focus on one skill for each three-month period while balancing other life demands.

Initially, each degree program will only be open to ten students. The program is also aimed primarily at older people who didn’t complete their degrees or skipped college entirely.

Clearly, this program is still in the testing phase. It’s still a wide open question, obviously, whether this model could be scaled up from a niche program into something suitable for mass consumption.

But we like where this idea is headed and hope this program and others like will pass all the early tests. Higher education should reward students for what they learn, not how long they’ve spent sitting in classrooms. This program is a promising first step.

[Mortar boards image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • qet

    Isn’t this similar to the English &/or European model? Whenever I read of someone attending Oxford or Heidelberg University or some such, it always seems as if this is the routine they perform and not the American routine of a 4-year sequence of specifically scheduled hour-long classes.

    • Corlyss

      Interesting. I wonder if this was what Downing Street had in mind for it’s educational reform. The Economist ran a series of articles about 6 or 7 years ago addressing the need for reform in the English university system because American universities were running away with the money. The differential between the world’s higher education money that goes to American universities as opposed to those in Western Europe including England is ENORMOUS. It’s like the difference between the relative sizes of the premier collection of illuminated manuscripts in America (Pierpont Morgan) and the runner up (Walters Collection in Baltimore). You need a very large wingspan to represent it.

  • Corlyss

    “If the program works, it could allow motivated students to learn more and rack up credentials”

    Credentials in what? Living? Is “higher education” intended to produce credentials in living or credentials in a necessary and useful subject matter? If subject matter, designing off-sets for “stuff learned” is going to be the long pole in the tent as far as producing meaningful bodies of off-setable knowledge. This I gotta see!

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I don’t think this will work, students require a structure of demands for homework, deadlines for papers, frequent quizzes and tests, in order to force the frequent recall of material in short term memory and thereby make it learned material in long term memory.

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