Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Is the Quest for Accreditation a Worthwhile Aim?

Over the few years of the MOOC revolution, one thread has run throughout: the quest for accreditation or credit transfer. Every survey indicates that students would welcome formal credit for their on line courses but when such schemes are available diminishingly few ever take them up. So how can we square this apparent paradox and does accreditation actually matter?

The problem is that most MOOC students have absolutely no intention of using the courses they take in any formal academic situation--even if it were possible. The research suggests that the overwhelming majority of students already hold first degrees and a significant proportion hold higher degrees. I suspect that most answer positively when asked about accreditation simply because it seems like a 'good thing'. Maybe I don't want or need it but others might.

Another factor that may be driving apparent student support for accreditation is one of quality assurance. If a course is accepted for credit by a reputable body then that gives some confidence that it meets objective academic standards. Even if we are only taking courses for fun or personal development it gives us a nice warm glow to know that it is valued by others.

There is one other reason, rarely commented on, for the relative lack of interest in credit transfer and that is the US-centric nature of such schemes. At best, most schemes achieve an ACE (American Council on Education) recommendation which basically suggests colleges might want to consider giving credit for a course. However, this applies only in the US and so is pretty meaningless to the large section of students who live elsewhere. I should add that pilot schemes here in the UK have fared no better; a MOOC run by Edge Hill University (coincidentally, where I completed my graduate teaching qualification), the first to offer UK university credits, failed to persuade any of its students to pay for the certificate--not even the participant who subsequently enrolled on a full degree program at Edge Hill (for which he paid £9,000 per year).

For all the reasons outlined above, I have been quite dismissive of accreditation, noting that it added little value in employment terms and was irrelevant to most students. However. . . as those who have read my previous post will know, there has recently been a seismic shift in the landscape of credit bearing courses in the form of a full degree based fairly and squarely on free online courses. Now this may only be a first step (and, in fairness, I should add the Thomas Edison State College launched an Associate Degree programme, again using Saylor Academy courses, almost two years ago) but it suddenly brings into sharper focus the potential value of accreditation where that can form a significant part of a full programme of study. I still have reservations about the value of accrediting individual courses, even for those in or about to enter higher education but it is difficult to argue that a $5,000 degree doesn't offer good value.

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