I was extremely gratified to see the two parallel sessions I had been most interested in were happening consecutively in the same room!
The first was a 'last minute' choice. I had been speaking before the conference to Vicky Brown (@VickyBrownTLM) about my OU studies and how I was now 5/6 of the way through MAODE. I was telling her that I was already feeling somewhat bereft at the thought of my studies being over. I would probably have to self-fund anything further and I'm not sure that I can prioritise formal studying over the other expenses our family has. Vicky then immediately suggested 'microcredentials' which piqued my interest.
Interestingly this session took place mostly online. All three presenters were either 'self isolating' or unwell so all presented with their slides and a camera on the large screen. This did cause me to consider if we could do something similar at work.
The presenter was Professor Mary Bishop who seems to wear a plethora of hats meaning she is an accountant, an educator, an academic and an assessor! She made a lot of really interesting - and contextually relevant - points:
- Free is great for democratisation and accessibility but it can lead to a perception of low value, or very generic themes (I can see how this happens. I am very on board, ideologically, with open education but I always have a nagging pragmatic concern about where the money comes from. I am sure there must be models which allow accessibility without compromising quality or the perception of quality - see next point.)
- Potential model - learning is free but accreditation isn't. This seems a good idea. It begs the question of what is important - the learning or the badge. In principle the learning must be the most important thing as - if you had to choose one or the other - it's more valuable. However - I am certain that there is a cynical portion of society who would happily get the badge (accreditation, certificate, award) without doing the learning if they found a loophole which allowed such a thing. In this model you can do the course free of charge but would have to pay for the final assessment or even for the official badge.
- Quality Assurance = critical The perception of low value or low quality must be refuted with high quality learning, qualifications and people.
- Good courses are built around a narrative - with a beginning and middle and an end
- Good courses should be 'provocative' (they should provoke interest, engagement)
- Practitioners should accept there is a ceiling for social engagement - whatever you do some people will 'lurk' - watch but not contribute
- Online learning can be very useful for formative assessment even if, for now, summative assessment is more problematic/ difficult
- The Stella Artois principle - good things are reassuringly expensive. Low cost or free resources are often low quality but even more often perceived to be
- A way in is 'microcredentialling' - small stakes, low risk
- The Royal Colleges (medical bodies) are beginning accept short activities / online courses and assign CPD approval
New commentI agree, it was a very stimulating session and demonstrated how interactive synchronous online learning can happen successfully when the technology allows. The points made by Mary Bishop about people not valuing free learning because of a perception about quality is something that the OU has been addressing since 2006 with its OpenLearn site of Open Educational Resources. The OU has a Charter obligation to share some of what it teaches openly. The Badged Open Courses on OpenLearn are entirely free but are also good quality and have an informal assessment model which motivates learners to work towards the badge. It would be difficult to find a 'loophole' for achieving the badge as the badge criteria depends upon the learner viewing every page of course content plus successfully completing the graded online quizzes, which are designed to support understanding rather than test memory of facts (it is quite a skill to write good quiz questions). All of this is tracked when the learner enrols and works through the course in their own time. But it is informal learning, there is no way so far of verifying that the learner completing the course is who they say they are (OpenLearn doesn't use technology like retina eye scanning to verify identity). Incidentally the OU has done some research using eye tracker technology in the past in the Jennie Lee Research Labs - see this old article I wrote for OpenLearn back in 2013 https://www.open.edu/openlearn/science-maths-technology/engineering-and-technology/technology/eye-tracking-research-and-evaluation (there is at least one broken link in it which I'll ask the OpenLearn team to fix). The OpenLearn courses don't use social learning, as they're perpetually available and it would be too costly to monitor forums for each of the courses on a continuous basis. Additionally, social learning can be quite intimidating for learners who aren't even sure they could study at degree level, the OpenLearn courses are designed to build learner confidence by using supportive language and activities in the content. At least one of the OpenLearn Badged Courses is CPD as part of the Nurse Mentorship programme (this was one of the earliest of the Badged courses, a micro credential created in 2015). Kate Tatton-Brown was right - it is challenging to produce high level, high stakes good quality online learning material. Many of the OU badged courses are designed in close partnership with the faculties developing formal curriculum as first steps towards a degree programme - they cost the OU to produce them with the same quality assurance processes used for formal curriculum even though they are free for anyone to use and are proving their worth as a pathway towards formal learning.
I enjoyed the conference too although didn’t attend this session. It was great to meet up with MA ODE study buddies too .
I thought you might be interested in these two examples of accredited learning. The first example requires students to study OER in order to gain credit. The second, is about using short, paid for courses on a MOOC platform to gain credits.
1. Informal study, formal credit
The Open University 30 credit module ‘YXM130, Making your learning count’, requires students to study 150 hours of OERs of their own choice. Students use courses from MOOC providers such as OpenLearn, FutureLearn, Coursera etc. The learning outcomes for the module are skills based.
2. Accredited learning on a MOOC platform
FutureLearn together with The Open University have recently produced some microcredentials. These are 10-12 week courses which allow students to gain 10 or 15 credits.