College credit for MOOCs?

If students could earn transferable credits for MOOCs (massive open online courses), the cost of higher education will go way down. The American Council on Education and Coursera, a MOOC provider, are looking for ways to translate MOOC learning into college credits, reports the New York Times.

 The council’s credit evaluation process will begin early next year, using faculty teams to begin to assess how much students who successfully complete Coursera MOOCs have learned. Students who want to take the free classes for credit would have to pay a fee to take an identity-verified, proctored exam. If the faculty team deems the course worthy of academic credit, students who do well could pay for a transcript to submit to the college of their choice. Colleges are not required to accept those credits, but similar transcripts are already accepted by 2,000 United States colleges and universities for training courses offered by the military or by employers.

Coursera, founded last year by two Stanford computer professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, has 33 university partners and nearly two million students, who currently can earn certificates of completion, but not academic credit, for their work.

The Gates Foundation is funding research on using MOOCs in remedial math and writing classes.

A free remedial math MOOC is being developed by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  The six-week course will be open to high school students and adult learners who hope to avoid the remedial track and start in college-level math classes.

In a “Fast Track” pilot this summer, 38 low-scoring students took the online course. After six weeks, all but one qualified for college-level math and science courses.

About Joanne


  1. Mark Roulo says:

    Another cost savings would be to allow folks to get some/most/all of their credits by test. You go off and study on your own, then pay $200 to take the final for a class (or submit a 20 page essay or whatever). Get enough units by exam and you get a degree.

    The obvious flaw with this is that it will be difficult to sustain the $50K/year tuitions that the colleges are build around as well as the campus facilities and salaries with this sort of credit-by-test scheme.

    Transferring in credits from MOOCs has *exactly* the same problem: How does the university continue to fund the current business model?

    In *theory* a college could do both. But how part of the value of many university degrees is their exclusivity. If Harvard/MIT/Stanford are handing out 5x the number of degrees because of credit-by-exam, then the value of the Harvard/MIT/Stanford degree drops.

    • I suppose the colleges had better get cracking figuring out how to deal with that situation although I suspect the most common method of preparation will be to hope the future never arrives.

    • Mark makes a very good point — you can separate the exam from the overpriced lectures that the universities offer. You don’t need MOOCs to do this. Someone could just read the books on the syllabus and work on the problem sets in a math or science class.

      This already happens. Ambitious homeschoolers study on their own for Advanced Placement exams. Ideally the AP exam system could be extended to higher-level courses, but the College Board will not want to antagonize colleges by doing this.

    • How does the university continue to fund the current business model?

      The current business model is a huge part of the problem.

  2. Florida resident says:


    ” […] Or consider crammers. There are thousands of these firms offering private tutoring at various levels of intensity. Weissberg lists many of them. They are especially popular with East Asian parents. Here is an interesting fact: Until a slight change in the law in 2008, students in struggling schools in poor neighborhoods could attend crammers for free, courtesy of No Child Left Behind funds. Thousands of entrepreneurs opened up shop in inner cities, expecting a profit bonanza from academically deprived students flocking into their crammers on the government’s dollar. Alas, nobody showed up.

    City after city reported a nearly identical experience: huge numbers of lagging students were offered a free tutoring option, often in the school they already attend, but only about 10 percent signed up, and even then, most dropped out after a few sessions. ”

    So may be the problem is
    not low supply of cheap education,
    but low demand for the knowledge (as opposed to demand for diploma.)

    • No, the problem’s a learned apathy due to the impotence of of parents to require the schools to do a better job.

      When parents come to terms with the new-found authority confered by a competitive market in education organizations they’ll start to gravitate towards those that give them what they want.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        What do parents want? They want a safe place to put their kids during the day, meaning no smoking, no drinking, no sex, no gangs or bullying. Adult supervision. Rewards for prosocial behavior and punishments for antisocial behavior. Activities and a certification that will make their child more employable.

        Right now MOOCs provide almost none of these. In fact, by their very nature, they cannot provide a lot of them.