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.com).

“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