How MOOCs and competency-based learning shaping the future of online higher education?

Two models of higher education–competency-based learning and MOOCs–are offering alternatives to conventional higher education and shaping the future of online higher education. Given below are recent developments which highlight this trend:

  • Southern New Hampshire University, a private university in New Hampshire, “is poised to launch a $5,000 online, competency-based associate degree that would be the first to blow up the credit hour–the connection between college credit and the time students spend learning.” In addition, it had been in gaining attention for its aggressive growth in online programs as a non-profit. It enrolled 2,750 undergraduates in its campus and another 25,000 in its online programs. The revenue for this “Little College That’s a Giant Online” is forecasted to reach $200 million in the next academic year—four times what it took in for 2010-11.
  • Western Governors University founded by the governors of 19 U.S. states in 1995, is an online university offering competency-based degree programs to more than 38,000 students. “Western Governors University, also a nonprofit, has gotten by far the most attention in the competency-based space. A federal law, passed in 2005, was designed to clear the way for Western Governors to participate in federal aid programs while directly assessing student learning. The university, however, did not pursue that authority, partially because of worries about whether employers and accreditors would accept competency-based degrees. So Western Governors, like all other institutions, connects student competencies to the credit hour.”

To sum up, in times of increasing costs and doubts about the ROI of degree, higher education is facing tough challenge from new models of learning like MOOCs and competency-based learning. In fact, the new models are going to not only challenge learning but the whole philosophy and practice. For example,  SNHU hired the former CEO of an online customer-relationship company as director of online programs, to retool SNHU’s operations in the style of Zappos and Amazon. She says that “We have to pick up the phone, treat our students as customers, respect their opinions.”

Is higher education willing and able to “serve the customers” and meet their changing needs?

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