It is difficult to know if MOOCs (Massive
Open Online Courses) are a conspiracy to undermine the academy or a way to open
the avenues of higher education. However one sees it, though, a revolution is
certainly taking place: millions of people are already taking on-line courses.
It seems that the U.S. Department of
Education is helping to move the revolution along. According to a missive sent
college officials, schools can now award federal student aid on the basis of
“competencies” rather than credit hours accumulated. To that end, Southern New
Hampshire University’s request to award aid based on the direct assessment of
student learning is poised for approval. While this option has existed since
2005, it hasn’t been employed until now.
This is a major step forward. If competency-based
education catches on for student aid, it may well have broad effects. After
all, obtaining a college degree currently requires accumulating about 128
credits. If degrees reflected demonstrated competencies rather than “seat
time,” the college degree would actually prove useful for potential
employers. Likewise, if “competency” becomes the new goal of college
education, more students will enroll in non-traditional institutions where they
can obtain useful skills at a fraction of the cost of traditional options. If
the trend towards demonstrated competencies continued, expect to see greater
movement towards the MOOCs.