Will this idea stick?

MOOCs are so early 2013. Our collective attention span on them is waning. (Don’t remember what a MOOC is? Scan this recent article here.)

However, here’s a concept that might have more legs:

A groundbreaking form of competency-based education now has its Patient Zero. Zach Sherman, a 21-year-old sanitation worker in Ohio, earned a self-paced associate degree from College for America in early June — just shy of 100 days after he enrolled in the online program…. Southern New Hampshire University launched the college in January. It is one of three institutions now offering “direct assessment” academic tracks, which are not based on the credit hour standard.

That means students can control how fast they move through the program’s task-oriented homework, assignments and assessments. There are no formal instructors at the college — only academic coaches and reviewers who determine if students have mastered each task by checking each assignment and sending them back to students for more work until they demonstrate competency.

In three months Sherman earned the equivalent of 60 credits….

This is a must read article. Read it on Inside Higher Ed here.

The University of Wisconsin system is attempting something similar, with its flexible degree program. While people are navel gazing about MOOCs (and yes, we were all caught up in the hype) this type of program may sneak up on us, and a lot of other institutions.

tanker-approaching-stormThe cargo ship represents slow, inflexible institutions of higher education, and the approaching clouds–well, you get it. Okay, this image might be a bit melodramatic, but I can’t help but feel that one of these ideas, whether MOOCs (less and less likely), competency-based education, or something that we haven’t even heard of yet, is going to hit soon and hit hard.

Upon reflection, perhaps we shouldn’t view such ideas as storms. That’s a pretty negative outlook. We might see smart, beneficial, and healthy developments in higher education over the next several years, in particular if we thoughtfully consider and participate in them rather than batten down the hatches. Maybe we need to find a new metaphor, a more positive one, to help with our mindset. I’ll work on that.


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