Need-to-Know-News: One HUGE Step Forward for Competency Learning, NEW Open2Study, and More

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series my goal is to share noteworthy stories with readers that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform the traditional model of education.

Open Universities Australia
Open Universities Australia launches Open2Study Platform offering open courses to anyone

There are several interesting developments this week in education, three in particular which I’ll cover in this post: 1) The newly launched learning platform, Open2Study to rival the likes of Coursera 2) Competency based learning, which gets a boost in the US with Prior learning Assessments (PLAs) and 3) more MOOC news to ponder.

1)  Open Universities Australia launches Open2Study
This week Australia’s own Open University launched a learning platform Open2Study, which is similar in some ways to Coursera, but at Open2Study courses focus on career exploration and life skills, in addition to those for intellectual development. Like other xMOOC platforms, its courses are free but all participants receive a certificate of completion, “If you complete at least three of the four assessments and average at least 60% for your subject, you’ll receive a Certificate of Achievement” (

“Open2Study isn’t a me-too MOOC; its objective is not merely attracting massive enrolments. It’s the next evolution in online learning, centred on student success,” says Paul Wappett, OUA CEO.

Open2Study provides an engaging and compelling education based on a comprehensive pedagogical model that recognises online learners behave differently, and have different needs from on-campus learners. (PR Newswire)

And, Open2Study does appear to differentiate itself from other MOOC providers; the practical approach will likely appeal to a narrower market, which is a positive move from a sustainability perspective. There is a vocational focus—each course includes a “Where could this take me? section that gives learners information on related careers.

2) US Department of Education [DOE] “Encourages” Higher Education to Adopt Competency Based Programs [also known as Prior Learning Assessments]
The DOE appears [very] anxious to communicate its support available to higher education institutions for programs that promote alternative paths to degree completion as per its press release from last week. The DOE encourages higher ed institutions to expand competency based programs as alternatives to traditional programs [based upon credit hours or seat time], and stresses the guidance available to institutions when accessing title IV financial aid.

“This [competency-based programs in which students learn at their own pace] is a key step forward in expanding access to affordable higher education,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We know many students and adult learners across the country need the flexibility to fit their education into their lives or work through a class on their own pace, and these competency-based programs offer those features – and they are often accessible to students anytime, anywhere. By being able to access title IV aid for these programs, many students may now be able to afford higher education.” [Press Release, March 19,  DOE]

This approach is a tough-sell to universities—implementing competency programs implies its acceptance of a learning philosophy that differs from traditional education programming. Yet some institutions are embracing it, including the State University of New York (SUNY), which is implementing a program based on Prior Learning Assessments [the concept of PLA is described further in this post]. No doubt, we will likely see more of PLA programs in the future—this is bigger news than MOOCs. PLA is already an approved and funded alternative to time-to-degree programs, and results are impressive for adults receiving credit from PLA programs.

3) MOOC News
This week a professor teaching through the edX platform put forth a unique request, he asked prior students [graduates] to help in his MOOC. He invited interested students to be mentors to students within his Ancient Greek Hero course, though on a volunteer basis. This is an interesting idea—actually a very good idea. And, Cousera continues to grow. This week I received an email from Coursera with the following news:

“Over 3 million students have joined the Coursera community since we began our journey in April last year. Today, Courserians hail from over 210 countries and have signed up for a staggering 10 million courses. As a company barely a year old, we’re truly grateful to have you as part of our growing community. From the Coursera Team” [personal email].

Finally, today I read via Stephen Downes daily newsletter OLDaily, about a MOOC Manifesto published through Connecta13. I agree with Stephen, this MOOC Manifesto contradicts just about everything that MOOCs are, or have the potential to be. It’s another example of how some educators view a new and different learning model through the lens of the old :(.

Closing Thoughts
Never a dull moment in the world of higher education. Have a Happy Easter weekend. Stay tuned for more developments on Twitter @OnlinelineI

5 thoughts on “Need-to-Know-News: One HUGE Step Forward for Competency Learning, NEW Open2Study, and More

  1. Hello Debbie,

    I’m just fascinated by your research style, zero-in ability to identify and analyze the related subject matter for discussions (SMDs). You’re just a gifted personality with ever enquiring mind to see good who seeks knowledge, and the platforms.

    I read your blog regularly with keen interest and enjoy them. Keep up the good work.


    Dr. S. Chaklader


    1. Dr. S. Chaklader,

      Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I enjoy writing and sharing, and am so glad you find my posts helpful and interesting! Thank you for taking the time to comment. Debbie


  2. Hello, Debbie, from Spain!

    I am one of the members of the Conecta13 team and we wanted to thank you for your link to Conecta13’s manifesto and the mention to Stephen Downes’ post, which we hadn’t read and which we appreciate as an important reference for our own reflection. The intention of our manifesto is to promote the open, critical debate about MOOCs and, consequently, we are satisfied, even if you dislike our approach.

    However, we cannot agree with your statement. We do not think the manifesto “contradicts just about everything that MOOCs are” basically because, if there is one single feature to characterise MOOCs, that is diversity. We strongly belive there is no “standard” MOOC, even though we also agree with Stephen Downes that the approach of cMOOCs is much more satisfactory than MOOCs based on contents and tasks. But to neglect their existence, and their institutional relevance or even, as we argue, their potential for certain types of learners, is to leave aside an important fraction of on-line learning. Sorry, we do not want to do that.

    Finally, you can find our reply to Stephen’s post here:

    Best wishes and, once again, thank you!


    1. Hi Fernando
      Thank you kindly for your reply and willingness to engage in discussion, even with those, like myself, that may disagree with your views. Though I do agree that within MOOCs should encourage diversity.

      Also, a missing dimension in your Manifesto is the lack of control that the sponsoring institution and course organizers have over the course. Given this lack of control, with the massive numbers of students, it is nearly impossible to guide and manage any kind of group work. Point 11 through 13 of the Manifesto address group work, and though not stated implies that groups are within the control of the institution and/or course organizers. With structured MOOCs, notably xMOOCs, the idea of incorporating groups tasks should be flexible and open, in that the students should decide whether to engage with groups or not, and choose their own groups accordingly.

      Again, thanks for your comment and taking the time to encourage debate! Debbie


      1. Why is lack of control so central to your philosophy? One of the goals of the manifesto appears to me to prevent a narrow-minded view or “this is a MOOC, that isn’t”.

        I think you missed an important point in the #FOEMOOC debacle: you put the blame on the teacher trying to control group formation, when the problem was actually that student-led group formation was simply not possible on that scale.

        If one of the learning goals of the course relates specifically to groupwork, then it stands to reason that groupwork is an essential part of the course. Would you expect to be able to complete a course on “Remote collaboration using Google tools” without joining a group? You would place yourself well and truly in lurker mode. But once we’ve established that it’s a straight choice between “join a group” and “lurk”, self-organisation between thousands of students is just not possible.

        The problem in #FOEMOOC was that they did indeed try to let students organise themselves, rather than implement a technological solution based on a survey of interests — which is ironic given that Coursera was founded by experts in carrying out precisely that sort of categorisation problem algorithmically….


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