PLA and MOOC’s: A Perfect Marriage?

The last time I discussed prior learning assessment (PLA) was back in August. I was just back from a Lumina Foundation convening on the subject and was inspired, intrigued and a bit skeptical. I didn’t mention it in my prior post (which you can read here), but one of the topics of conversation which came up at the Lumina convening was how, or even if, MOOC’s would affect the current trajectory of PLA.

An article in today’s Inside Higher Ed  is highlighting one of the ways in which MOOC’s could serve to turn the tide on PLA:

Wedding%20Couple%20with%20Heart%20Cake%20Topper“Many of the 112 colleges in the [California Community College] system offer ‘challenge exams’ that give  students a chance to prove what they know for college credit. Officials from the  system’s central office are working with faculty leaders from the Academic  Senate to consider creating examinations for remedial courses and core general  education courses for an associate degree aimed at students who want to transfer  to a California State University campus. Students could use MOOCs to  prepare for challenge exams, and community colleges could steer them toward the  free online courses. And MOOC providers could tailor their offerings to the  exams and gateway courses.”

The article goes on to quote Barry A. Russell, the system’s Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, who advocated creating and publishing a “crosswalk” that linked MOOCs to course requirements covered by particular challenge exams.

The idea that students could use MOOCs as preparation for challenge exams is not revolutionary. I would imagine that most resourceful students brush up on particular skills and knowledge using a plethora of free online resources before taking a challenge exam. The tailoring of MOOCs by for-profit entities (such as Coursera and Udacity) to specific challenge exams and the creation of a school-sanctioned cross-walk between MOOCs and exams is, however, novel.

If endorsed by the faculty, such a scenario could serve to further both MOOCs and PLA, together, as the great “hacker” of higher education. Singularly they could remain in the periphery, but together they would certainly serve as a powerful force. The announcement today by the American Council on Education (ACE) that it will now evaluate four Udacity courses (in addition to several Coursera courses) serves as even more evidence of the growing and strengthening relationship between the PLA and MOOC camps.

There are, however, remaining hurdles that should not be underestimated. As Barry A. Russell, the California Community College System’s Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, pointed out in the article, “a move to stadardize the tests, which vary widely across system, would likely require changes to state policy.” And the issue of transferability, which has plagued PLA from its inception, remains a pervasive issue.

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