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Credit for MOOCs presents challenges in Australia

Credit for study done via massive open online courses is available in the US. mcwetboy/Flickr

Major barriers still stand in the way of Australian universities giving students credit for completing Massive Open Online Courses say local analysts, despite Coursera signing up Los Angeles-based Antioch University under a for-credit licensing deal.

The comments come as Deakin University told The Australian it would launch its own MOOC as an extension to its online strategy, which could include non-Deakin material and an international partner.

Deakin joins the University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, University of Western Australia, La Trobe and the University of NSW in embracing open online courses.

The deal signed between Antioch University and Coursera will see the university pay Coursera to allow its Bachelor of Arts students to complete online courses from other universities and gain credit towards their degree.

“Antioch gets the student and giving the student a credit might actually be better than having to teach the student,” said Justin Bokor, education expert with Ernst & Young Advisory.

“There might be a surplus on that marginal cost,” he said.

The partnership would give students an opportunity to earn university credit at an affordable cost, Antioch University president Ted Boggs said in a statement.

But so far Australian universities have taken a different approach, preferring to offer free online courses that allow them to avoid giving credit.

“Behind Coursera are universities with a vested interest in this market and they don’t want great competition with themselves,” Mr Norton said.

“They certainly don’t want their own students taking their own courses at a fraction of the cost.”

In September Australian National University vice chancellor Ian Young warned Australian universities against giving away course content for free without thinking through their strategy.

“If you have hundreds of thousands of students of those degrees you effectively devalue the degree,” Professor Young said.

“So I think it is very unlikely that those first tier institutions would actually want to become major online providers offering around the world large numbers of accredited degrees which would compete with their online products.”

Mr Norton said the key to making paid-for online courses viable was credit transfer across multiple universities.

“If it’s going to be commercially viable students have to believe if they enrol and pay they can get transfer credit at a wide range of colleges.

Mr Norton said while students might want to put together units from several providers, it all had to add up, with the value of each unit given the correct recognition.

"One of big value-adds of universities now is that they can put together a series of subjects that together make up some kind of basic expertise in a particular subject area,” he said.

However Mr Bokor said it was inevitable Australian universities would follow a similar path to that of Antioch University, adding that it was just a matter of how much credit and under what conditions it was given.

“You can’t imagine them giving credit for 30 or 40% of the program, but I can imagine them giving credit at the margins, say for first year courses that are broad-based that are fairly well understood and commonly agreed within the field.”

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