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Wanted: An Accreditation System for MOOCs


MOOCs have a number of advantages: they’re cheaper, they’re open to everyone, and they allow students to arrange their studies around busy schedules. But almost none offer credit, and without that MOOCs are worth far less than equivalent college courses, even if students learn exactly the same things. Until colleges are convinced the programs are serious, MOOCs won’t be a viable alternative to a traditional college education.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, David Bergeron and Steven Klinsky offer an interesting solution: a new, private-sector accreditation body, much like the organization that currently provides accreditation to colleges, could certify individual courses and create tests for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned. These certifications would be similar to current college credits, but they would be based on the content a student has learned rather than the time spent in a classroom. These credits would eventually become transferable to traditional schools, integrating MOOCs into the current higher ed world while retaining their flexibility and easy access:

Unlike traditional accreditors, Modern States [Bergeron and Klinsky’s name for the new accreditation body] would be able to accredit specific courses, not just the degree-granting institution as a whole. For example, it could recognize that the freshman physics MOOC from MITx is of high quality, and then develop a widely available, proctored test for students who complete that course, similar to an SAT exam or CPA exam.

Students who complete the preapproved, tuition-free MOOC and also pass the confirmatory Modern States assessment would earn accredited course hours from Modern States itself. Enough such courses in the right scope and sequence (say physics from MITx, poetry from Harvard, theology from Notre Dame and so on) could lead to a fully accredited Modern States degree. Modern States would also approve courses and develop tests in vocational areas, in career training fields and at the two-year and community-college level, in order to serve all types of students.

The creation of Modern States could then enable a whole field of academic innovations to bloom, including blends of “bricks and clicks” and new types of federal financial aid models. For example, students might take their core lectures tuition-free and online from a nationally renowned professor in a MOOC, and then attend supplementary weekly study groups with a live professor and other students in their home towns, all at a lower overall cost than a traditional course today.

This is a good idea, but it faces a number of obstacles. Colleges and their accreditation bodies currently enjoy near-total control over academic credits, and many schools will resist a low-cost alternative that could erode that control. Nonetheless, this represents a serious effort at grappling with one of the most difficult problems facing MOOCs and deserves serious consideration. Read the whole thing.

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    This will be fanatically resisted by every College, as it drains their entire market of students. Why pay 10 or 20 times more for a class taught by some unknown, when you can get the same class taught by a world renowned scolar with sets, cgi, guest speakers, and a 5 star rating by the Student Critics Association (the SCAN) (OK, I made that up, there is no SCAN, YET) as the best of the best.

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