With the rise of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) offered by many large universities, and now some smaller ones, an interesting discussion has been revived.
Many students bring to their higher education careers some excellent life/work experiences that, some might argue, universities have largely ignored. To begin down the higher education path they must traverse what must seem like a gauntlet of courses with redundant information and skills in order to get to more challenging topics upstream. In order to fit into a particular program, students must prove they have already mastered a set of requisite skills, sometimes quite refined skills, through requirements of their day job. They need to prove that they are not neophytes.
With over 40 million people in the US who started a post-secondary program but never completed, the theory is that adult students are more likely to earn a degree (or credential) if they receive credit for prior learning.
Online education will play a significant role
Some states, seeing enormous benefits, are taking an interest in competency-based learning, which places strong emphasis on taking account of prior learning experience. Last August, in Tennessee, a commission argued that universities should value the diversity of their students. This diversity includes the unique experiences, interests, and intellectual pursuits that lead to the acquisition of knowledge that may be at the college level.
The trick is to figure out how to define prior learning and then assess it. My colleague from The University of Arizona, Gary Rhoades, suggested, “it cheapens a college education, cheats the student and society, and prioritizes stamping students as certified over providing them with a quality education.”
For that very reason, I think we need to keep control of the assessment piece. This area of interest will grow (and should grow) in Michigan as more soldiers serving overseas return to the work force and as more of our present work force seeks retraining through higher education. This retraining will make online education more important than ever, but our new goals should include figuring out what skills can transfer into our programs.
The discussion in higher education is now turning to the idea that students could earn credits at the beginning of their new academic career through an assessment of their prior learning. That is where MOOCs appear. These courses, open to anyone, might be the way for individuals to prove that they have mastered some of those underpinning skills.