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.

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

  1. While I agree with you about MOOCs (I really want to try a truly networked MOOC of the Siemens variety; my recent experience with Blackboard’s Curt Bonk MOOC was a disaster), I have to disagree with the notion that universities are above offering credit by examination. My school offers credit for a variety of CLEP tests (list: http://cidl.ou.edu/testingclepexams.cfm#list), and I assume that University of Michigan does also, despite your comment that “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.” I just checked – yes, CLEP can be counted as transfer credit based on specific departmental options, just as at my school – http://www.lsa.umich.edu/students/academicsrequirements/academicpolicies/testcreditapclepibaleveletc/creditbyexaminationcbe_ci – so, if CLEP tests are considered as incoming credit (along with AP and other kinds of credit by examination), why not Udacity or Coursera? It seems to me that even a bad MOOC is a step up from a CLEP test where students just memorize the study guide before taking the test. At least with a MOOC, some education along the way is possible… far less so, it seems to me, with a CLEP test that is all about memorize-and-regurgitate.

    1. That’s a good point, Laura– and btw, I was in that Bonk MOOC waste of time, too. I guess two things occur to me about that though. First, the acceptability/transferability of things like CLEP scores vary a lot. At EMU, they are more picky than perhaps they should be regarding CLEP and some transfer credit. And CLEP is also a part of “the system,” too. Second, what we’re basically talking about here with CLEP and most transfer credits (especially from community colleges) is gen ed. Now, that’s potentially a good thing and maybe ultimately that’s the future of these kinds of MOOCs and such. But that isn’t the same as “let’s just chuck higher ed out the window in favor of MOOCs, DIY Education, badges, etc., etc.”

      But I do agree with your basic premise here, and maybe one way of dealing with the cost of a college degree and the problems of gen ed (things that a lot of people think students ought to have learned before they got to college in the first place) is through a mix of community college plans, alternative certifications and online learning, MOOCs, etc. That could be really interesting. But that’s different than these things replacing a college degree in general.

      1. I’m part of the Gen. Ed. instructor ranks at my school and I teach online (and I love teaching online BTW… it’s a great way to turn a class into something project-oriented rather than lecture-oriented) – anyway, there is a big push at my school to get more Gen. Ed. online in order to improve our graduate rate (our 6-year rate is just at 65% which is seriously not good; we need to do better); simply for reasons of scheduling, the online course option is very popular with the students who often have many demands on their time and simply can’t find a classroom-based Gen. Ed. course that fits their schedule. So while the CLEP option or a lecture-driven MOOC will never be the best possible education, if it gets someone closer to graduating, esp. someone at risk of not graduating at all, then I would welcome it. Plus, if Gen. Ed. is supposed to be about lifelong learning, then having people complete their Gen. Ed. in an online MOOC which is probably full of lifelong learners in addition to degree seekers might be a good thing, too! I don’t see any of these new initiatives like Coursera or Udacity replacing university degrees, but I do see them as expanding the educational content and experiences available online and perhaps giving us a next-generation credit-by-testing option, one that might be a substantial improvement on the CLEP and similar.

  2. If you would have bothered to read the blog post in its entirety you would have seen that Udacity feels that their own certification is fine and stands on it’s own. They just let people take a proctored exam to increase legitimacy and to help the concerns of cheating. This isn’t “selling out” or “buying in”. It’s just adding another option for students who might feel that they need it.

    “Again, this is strictly optional and you can still participate in our job placement program without taking a proctored exam. The testing centers allow students to show off what they’ve learned in an environment that ensures academic honesty.”

    1. If Udacity really thought that its certification was “fine” and “stands on its own,” then they wouldn’t have bothered to team up with a textbook publisher nor would they have bothered with the efforts they’ve made to team up with universities and such.

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