This might need to be a short posting, given that I’m in the midst of that multi-tasking that I recommend students never do while working on something important. But as I write this, one of the two suspects in last Monday’s Marathon bombing is at large, and last seen a couple of towns over tossing a bomb from a stolen car. So apologies if I seem distracted.
But perhaps distraction is what is needed at a time such as this, and so onward to some concluding thoughts regarding getting credit for MOOC courses and other forms of free learning.
I’ve outlined several evolving pathways that will allow students to receive official college credit for taking some of the great courses that have come online over the last couple of years. In fact, as I’ve been taking my Udacity statistics class, an offer has popped up that lets me get official credit for this course for $150.
Now that’s a fraction of the quotient you’d get if you divided a year of college tuition by eight courses, so if enough courses manage to fit into one of the transfer credit schemes I mentioned earlier this week (such as ACE accreditation or associated credit-by-exam programs), or employers begin to recognize the value of hiring independent learners to the point where independent learning portfolios have real value with regard to hiring, then MOOCs (and similar materials) will begin to have a monetary value to supplement their current personal worth as a means of driving independent learning.
MOOC credit could actually be a good thing with regard to pushing down the cost of higher education and providing those that develop massive courses a source of income that can fuel continued expansion of their offerings. But credit might also come with an associated downside: the dilution of one of the current key virtues of self-motivated learning.
For right now (at least for the most part) MOOC courses have no external value, meaning there is not really a dollar figure you claim to earn or save by finish a MOOC class successfully. Which means that their only rewards are internal, consisting of the value you assign the personal experience of learning something new.
But once an online course translates to hundreds or thousands of dollars in tuition cost savings, or become as valuable as actual college courses in the employment marketplace, there will suddenly be an incentive for cutting corners by skipping lectures, blowing off reading or even cheating in order to obtain that external dollar value out of a course without putting the appropriate amount of work into it.
One of the advantages of the current “worthlessness” of MOOCs (speaking only in financial terms) is that they can rely on trust and self-motivation, rather than policing, to ensure students are doing the work needed to complete the course.
After all, if the only real current reward for taking a MOOC is the learning that’s accomplished, what could be more idiotic than wasting opportunities to practice and confirm that learning (which is what quizzes and assignments allow you to do) or cutting other corners that limit how much you get out of the class?
I know that there have been instances of people plagiarizing in current MOOC courses, but the cost of such absurd behavior is born only by the student who has sunk hours into taking some parts of the course (by watching lecture videos, for example) who then put time into another activity (cheating) desired to ensure they will fail to achieve true understanding of the material.
Obviously some people don’t comprehend the ridiculousness of cheating on a course where the only victim is the cheater. But my guess is that this small amount of irrational behavior will grow substantially once cheating becomes more “rational,” in that it provides an inexpensive route to achieve something of value (such as genuine college credit or a job).
I’m not sure what the ultimate solution is for this credit paradox. Perhaps ongoing developments in test security and remote proctoring will give MOOC providers the means to establish a separate set of exams for a self-segregated subset of people who want to take a course for credit. Or perhaps attitudes towards MOOCs will evolve to where they are considered to be their own unique thing, rather than being considered an absolute equivalent to the traditional classes they so closely resemble.
However this paradox is resolved (presuming it can be resolved), we need to continue to appreciate not just MOOCs but the wealth of free, high-quality learning resources flooding the marketplace for what they are right now: a boon to the independent student ready to take responsibility for their own learning – even if their only reward comes in something other than dollars.