Udacity joins Pearson in skipping this whole pesky “education” thing (and more complaining about MOOCs)

A couple months ago, I had a post here about how I see “education” working as a combination of learning, teaching, and credentialing.  In that post, I pointed out that ventures like Coursera are at this point PR vehicles for the elite universities because they are offering “courses” to the masses but they would never actually accept these courses as credit at said elite universities– in other words, there’s no way the University of Michigan is going to accept a certificate or badge of completion as credit toward one of its degrees, even if students pay for the privilege.  However, as I also pointed out in that post, that doesn’t mean less elite institutions like Ivy Tech aren’t willing to count these things.

Well, now Udacity is doing the same thing.  To quote from their blog:

Today, we’re excited to announce a partnership with Pearson VUE, a worldwide provider of testing services. Students may still complete a Udacity class on our website as they always have. And now, students wishing to pursue our official credential and be part of our job placement program should also take an additional final exam in a Pearson testing center. There are over 4000 centers in more than 170 countries.

I came across this news via George Siemens’ elearnspace.  Siemens, who is a Canadian researcher/teacher about technology in education and who has been a pioneer of Massive Online Open Courses, is critical of this move.  He sees Udacity as essentially “selling out:”

Udacity is recognized as an innovative model of learning in the future, but, in order to gain legitimacy, decides that a connection to the established testing system is more important than blazing a new trail. This connection serves to reinforce the existing educational model rather than to continue the path of creating a new one. As Udacity creates similar connections to other education companies and organization, it quickly becomes apparent that the network being created is one of validation and lockin, rather than innovation and a new vision for learning. You can’t do much innovation if your point of departure is blocked by existing testing and assessment models.

True enough, but I guess I’m more cynical than that.  I see Udacity as merely “buying in:”  that is, I think the unspoken goal of Udacity, Coursera, and other comparable projects has always been to leverage the assessment industry and generate “cheap credit” that might be applicable at less picky colleges and universities.

Now, I do appreciate the fact that entities like Udacity do extend some opportunity to education to the rest of the world and that comes across in Udacity’s press release.  Still, if you follow the money, I don’t think Udacity and Pearson are in this to extend opportunity to people in Sri Lanka.  No, I think the goal of these entities is to compete in the higher education market in the U.S., Canada, and maybe some of Europe, and specifically, to compete with the “lower half” of that market:  for-profit universities, community colleges, and (probably) opportunity-granting regional universities and colleges.

Incidentally, Siemens also has a really good post on his (and his colleagues) vision(s) of MOOCs, one that I would argue is at odds with corporate model that is all the rage as of late.  Go read it, but basically, Siemens’ vision of a MOOC strikes me as about community and connection, with an emphasis on student-centered learning and on the value of making things and student contributions to the learning process, as opposed to the “sage on a stage knowledge delivered from the elite leaders to the unwashed masses” model of the Coursera/EdX/Udacity/et al of the world.

I still don’t think MOOCs are the future of education, at least on this continent and as long as the credential of the college degree is so important.  Or let me put it this way:  I will believe in the viability of MOOCs and open education when that young person applying for an entry-level job in the Federal government or for the Bank of America or “insert your major employer here” with a “non-degree” series of badges and certificates from various free/low-price online entities wins that position over a young person with a bachelors degree from a traditional university.

That said, I’m all for the MOOC model that Siemens is talking about.  I don’t know if they are educational per se, but they are certainly great opportunities for learning and teaching, and maybe someday we can figure out a way to make them legitimately “count” for something.

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