Need-to-Know-News: Micro-Credentialing Movement in Higher Ed & Active Learning Trumps Lectures

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.

credit1) The Micro-credential Movement in Higher Ed
The latest trend in higher education is micro-credentialing, the non-traditional education path where students gain skill sets in a specific area and receive a credential. Case in point, Udacity announced this week a new nanodegree (Udacity defines nanodegrees as ‘curriculums designed to help you become job-ready)’— the Android nanodegree in partnership with Google. Another example—Penn State’s College of Business also launched this week an online bootcamp course, ‘Supply Chain Leadership Academy’, to educate “supply chain leaders of tomorrow in leadership and best practices in holistic supply chain management”.

The micro-credentialing trend is driven by business entities that have a real (or perceived) workforce skill gap, where jobs can’t be filled due to lack of qualified applicants. Google reports it has thousands of jobs to fill given a dearth of qualified applicants. The Linux Foundation, also offering a certificate course in partnership with edX, reports it has over 50,000 open jobs.

MOOC providers and select higher education institutions are leveraging the apparent skills gap, using their platforms to build their online program offerings with credentialing options for a fee. A good idea. The target market is not traditional higher education students, but non-traditional students that are already in the workforce and are looking to further their careers and/or switch career paths. Alison.com is a platform offered credentialing in specific skill sets long before MOOC providers began doing so. Though Alison’s business model is different from MOOC providers such as Coursera or edX. Students aren’t the revenue source but advertisers, featured on the platform, are.

Sampling of micro-credential programs and associated fees:

  • edX’s Linux System Administration Essentials course, “This Linux course is for those just starting their career in IT as well as professionals with experience on other operating systems who want to add Linux to their portfolio”. Fee: $399
  • Stanford Online, Professional Certificates, “Our professional certificates offer short, focused courses that give you tools and techniques you can apply right away“. Fee: $1295 per online course; required number of courses vary by certificate.
  • Udacity’s Nanodegree – “All the course content is free online, but the $200 per month pays for the non-scaleable parts of the degree: project grading, feedback, instructor mentorship, assistance and a final certification”. Option to receive reimbursement of 50% of tuition upon completion.
  • Digital Literacy & IT Skills Diploma Courses, Alison.com. Free with option to pay nominal fee for paper certificate delivered via mail.
  • Coursera’s Specializations – “Master a skill with a targeted sequence of courses”. Fee: $95 per course, with a fee for the ‘capstone project’, e.g. Business Foundations Specialization = $595 for four courses and capstone project.
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Screenshot of recent email from Coursera announcing upcoming Specialization certificates. ‘Specializations’ consist of a two or more courses on focused area.

Insight: This non-traditional student population, which micro-credentials target, is an emerging market and such options are a boon to working or unemployed adults seeking skill development. It’s a positive development in higher education. Employers appear receptive to micro-credentials. However, micro-credentialing is favorable provided the programs provide quality learning resulting in tangible, applicable skill sets. The majority of the credentials require not only a financial investment, but a significant investment of students’ time and energy. It’s buyer-beware; credentials do not guarantee a job, though the courses backed by business entities likely have higher placement rates than those without a business affiliation.

2) The Case for Active Learning over Lectures*
This is not new news, but worthy of review—evidence that performance of students engaging in classes that primarily offer active learning is improved over classes involving primarily lectures. A significant study on active learning was released last year; it provides compelling evidence on active learning benefits specific to STEM subjects in higher education (Freeman, et al., 2014). Researchers conducted a meta-analyses of 225 studies in published and unpublished literature that documented student performance in courses with at least some active learning versus traditional lecturing.  Though intuitively we might know that active learning is more effective for learning, there’s now solid evidence to back it up:

The data reported here indicate that active learning increases examination performance by just under half a SD and that lecturing increases failure rates by 55%. The heterogeneity analyses indicate that (i) these increases in achievement hold across all of the STEM disciplines and occur in all class sizes, course types, and course levels; and (ii) active learning is particularly beneficial in small classes and at increasing performance on concept inventories.

Implications: Is the lecture dead? Absolutely not, but to increase student learning, retention and success, involving students in active application of concepts should be the norm not the exception. However, implementing active learning is challenging for many educations, and especially for online courses, yet it can be done with deliberate, thoughtful development of a course learning strategy. Below are links with suggestions and examples of active learning applications. One of my favorite examples of active learning, is an online literature instructor Laura Gibbs, who creates assignments using online platforms—blogging platforms, Pinterest, etc. where students engage with content, each other and the Internet community.

References:

Feature Image: by GotCredit on Flickr

Need-to-Know-News: edX’s T-Shirt Giveaway & MOOCs Identity Crisis

MP900405500This ‘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.

1) EdX’s Free T-Shirt Campaign
As a student of edX I frequently receive edX newsletters via email announcing upcoming courses, recently added courses, new university partners, etc. Yet there’s been a subtle shift in tone lately; the last few have emphasized courses with a price tag attached: verified certificate courses* ($), two or more courses within a subject area—xSeries courses ($$), and professional education courses ($$$) .  With edX’s most recent newsletter (screenshot below) there is a not-so-subtle promotional angle:

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Screen shot of heading of newsletter emailed to edX students on November 11
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* Screenshot of options given to students upon signing up for the verified certificate track in a course on edX.  This pick-a-price option for pursing the verified certificate is a change implemented within the last few weeks.

Insight: Offering free (branded) t-shirt is a marketing tactic companies typically use to encourage sales, increase brand awareness, customer loyalty, etc. Which makes one wonder—what’s going on over at edX that free t-shirt tactics are deemed necessary? Note: Despite the offer of a t-shirt in the newsletter, determining how to get the t-shirt is impossible—there’s no mention of a the t-shirt when clicking on the newsletter, registering for a course, or on edX’s site.

2) MOOCs Identity Crisis
I thought the media’s preoccupation with MOOCs was over. If using the number of articles in the media about MOOCs as an indicator—it’s not. Over the past few weeks there’s been several articles in mainstream media about MOOCs—in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. The title of the New Yorker’s piece is amusing “Will MOOCs be Flukes” but the article demonstrates how the term MOOC now includes courses that aren’t necessarily free, or open or even massive.

MOOCs are flexible and they can (emphasis added) be free” (Konnikova, 2014)

Which is consistent with what’s happening in the MOOC marketplace. xMOOCs on platforms such as edX, Coursera, etc. look quite different today than they did in 2012.

Insight: According to a recent article in EDUCAUSE Review, MOOCs are here to stay—the MOOC “experiment is not over; in fact, it has just begun” (Mazoue, 2014). Fair enough. MOOCs have been a catalyst for challenging the traditional view of education. But it’s time for institutions to change terminology and describe courses appropriately. And as Tony Bates describes in a recent blog post, institutions need adjust strategies and approaches to online and open learning in general.

Chauhan describes the increasing variation of instructional methods now associated with the generic term ‘MOOC’, to the point where one has to ask whether the term has any consistent meaning. It’s difficult to see how a SPOC for instance differs from a typical online credit course…The only common factor in these variations is that the course is being offered to some non-registered students, but then if they have to pay a $500 fee, surely that’s a registered student? If a course is neither massive, nor open, nor free, how can it be a MOOC? Tony Bates, A review of MOOCs and their assessment tools

Need-to-Know-News: How Big is the MOOC Market? More Money$ for Minerva & Impact of MOOCs

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.

The MOOC Market
What is the size of the market for xMOOCs? I’m not sure anyone really knows, not even the MOOC providers. The size of a market for a good or service is defined as the number of individuals in a market who are potential buyers. Market size also translates into dollars, typically measured in terms of revenue ($ sales) for a given product/service. Companies—sellers in the market seek to obtain a share, or a piece of the pie.

Since for-profit MOOC providers such as Udacity, Coursera and even not-for-profit edX now charge fees for select courses and/or services, we have ourselves a market—a MOOC market.  But how big is it? How much revenue ($$$) will MOOC providers need to generate to satisfy investors or in edX’s case keep the lights on?  Only time will tell. But in the meantime it’s probably a good idea for educators to take note of what’s happening in the MOOC market.

Here’s a rundown of what MOOC providers are doing to get a share of the market share pie:

  • EdX launched five courses this under the banner of Professional Education. Though they come with a price, starting at $495.

Build skills and advance your career with edX Professional Education courses. Taught by experts at leading universities, our courses are designed to offer working professionals flexible online learning. Check out the courses currently available for enrollment, and stay tuned as we announce more in the coming months. —email to edX students, October 17 2014

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Screenshot of course listing featured in email sent to edX students.  On the edX website, prices for courses are not prominently displayed or obvious from reading course descriptions as per this example 
  • Coursera is counting on the Specialization Certificate programs for a revenue stream. A Specialization Certificate program features two or more MOOCs grouped around a specific topic, described by Coursera as a “targeted sequence of courses”.

At completion of the course series, students will feel they have a connection to today’s workplace with a focus on using real work issues and situations as a practical context for the application of needed knowledge and skills in communication. The culminating experience of the final project will help the students to demonstrate their value to potential employers.  Coursera—Specializations

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Screenshot from Coursera Specialization program description. Cost for Certificate program depends upon number of MOOC in the sequence: each MOOC is $49 (the cost of a Signature Track credential), and $49 for a capstone project.
  • Udacity launched the nanodegree program several weeks ago. Details are now available. The cost structure is not per course as edX and Coursera, but by month. This format closely resembles competency-based education programs (e.g. Western Governors University), where students invest as much time as needed to master the content of a course. Students then demonstrate via competency assessment where mastery is the benchmark.

You can take a nanodegree for $200/month. Most nanodegrees are expected to take between 6-12 months to complete, depending on your study schedule and prior background. For more details, check the overview page for the nanodegree that you’re interested in getting. Nanodegrees —Udacity

Insight: Soon we’ll need to drop the ‘O’ (for open) from the MOOC acronym. Perhaps the ‘M’ too, given potentially shrinking class sizes once a price is attached to ‘free’ learning. We will be left with ‘OC’, for Open Course. Or maybe for Online Credential. An online credential that one pays dearly for.

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Minerva tag line “How will you define your future?”

Minerva Raises More Funds $70 M 
The Minerva Project, a new university with a novel concept—students study in different locations around the world starting in San Francisco and not in a typical university setting. There’s no classrooms, sports teams, or libraries. Minerva sees itself as an elite university, a rival to the Ivy leagues. It’s for-profit with a diverse set of investors. The founder and CEO is Ben Nelson, former executive of Snapfish.

$70 million to San Francisco based education firm Minerva Project:

“Bringing together partners for this round of funding that include one of the most respected, top quality, and innovative education companies with TAL and the most forward thinking technology investors with Benchmark, ZhenFund and Yongjin, is a powerful combination committing to Minerva’s next stage of development.” Reuters

Insight: I was skeptical of the concept when Minerva first launched, and still am. Apparently investors are not.

The Impact of MOOCs 
Inside Higher Education reported on a meeting of an international group of higher education institutions that came together to explore the impact of MOOCs on higher education. The meeting, convened by George Siemens produced some interesting conclusions, though not all surprising including 1) the future for higher education is digital and 2) MOOCs provided safe spaces for experimentation and innovation in teaching and learning and more.