Need-to-Know-News: OERuniversity, ALISON expands open education & MOOC Camp Initiative

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

globe_mouseThe theme in education news this week is global education. The barriers to education are coming down with ubiquitous computing providing access to learning anytime and anywhere. Three significant announcements this week:

1) U.S. State Department creates ‘MOOC Camp Initiative’ with Coursera
Who knew? Earlier this year the State Department ran pilot courses in several countries including Bolivia, South Korea and Indonesia, with Coursera and other MOOC providers. One proved most successful—programs offering internet access in ‘learning hubs’, a space where learners could access MOOC content, and meet once per week for face-to-face discussions about the course. Career counseling was also provided. The State Department officially partnered with Coursera this week following this pilot series, calling it the  “MOOC Camp Initiative“, now operating in 40 countries.

For the State Department, Ms. Curtis said, the appeal of the MOOCs is that they can be used to reach students anywhere, exposing them to American universities and college-level discussion, and perhaps spurring a desire to study in the United States.

Insight:  The purpose of the program is puzzling. Initially I thought it might be to support the US’s strategy to support global education—though the quote from the article suggests otherwise.

2) ALISON: Online Learning Platform Goes Global
ALISON is the ‘biggest education provider you’ve never heard of’, according to a recent BBC news article. I’d say so considering it started in 2007.  ALISON, an acronym for Advanced Learning Interactive Systems Online, a platform that provides skills-based education will be on the radar going forward. Global education is on the agenda for numerous countries and organizations; now more than ever with the elimination of barriers to Internet and device access. ALISON was one of six organizations winning a prestigious  international award this week at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Qatar. The WISE Award selection panel awarded six prizes from a pool of thousands.

ALISON’s slant towards vocational skills and lack of Ivy League prestige is likely what kept it below the radar, though the majority of the students are from North America and the UK. Though this will change, as growing markets for online education include Nigeria, and the Philippines. ALISON also started a program this year providing online training for 12 million young people in the Arab world.

“Education underpins all social progress. If we can improve the general education level worldwide, global poverty can be dealt with profoundly and a general standard of living can be vastly improved.”  Founder, Mike Feerick

The model: As other providers struggle to find a business model, Alison has it down. Mike Feerick, ALISON’s founder, envisioned a for-profit model providing free education in basic skills available online to global audiences, yet with a social purpose. And the model is sustainable, with revenue generated by advertising on its site and from learners willing to pay more for an ad-free learning experience.

Proof of learning is also unique. Learning achievement is validated through certificate, diploma or testing—a ‘flash-test’ where anyone who holds an ALISON certificate can be tested on what they know at anytime.

Insight: As competency-based learning becomes recognized by employers, platforms offering vocational skills will expand, becoming a realistic alternative for individuals seeking free skill development with a learning record. Great potential for countries with high un-employment rates.

3)  OERuniverity Project
The OERuniverity project has been in the works for sometime, though finally launched this week with over 31 universities offering courses for free. The goal of the program is to widen access to education for learners excluded from the formal sector.  What’s different?—students gain academic credit for courses by passing a proctored exam. All students pay for is the proctoring service. Testing is done through the partner educational institutions on a cost-recovery basis. The catch though—credit will only be accepted at the 31 participating universities.

Also unique, OERu is truly open. Not just open enrollment, but course materials are licensed under Creative Commons, textbooks are open and the learning platform uses open software.

OERu will be officially launched by Sir John Daniel, former vice-chancellor of The Open University, at Thompson Rivers University in Canada on 1 November.  “I believe that radical innovations in higher education must be accompanied by particularly robust frameworks of accreditation and credentialing in order to reassure the public,” Sir John said.

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