The duration of and credit attached to traditional post-secondary courses is tied more to their Lego-block efficiencies in facilitating classes, semesters and credentials for large numbers of students than either to meet the desired learning outcomes for a particular discipline or to follow the internal logic of a learning domain. So to answer both your questions, I think where a focus on certain learning outcomes for longer durations is appropriate, there is no reason that either a course should be longer or the curricular structure of micro-courses would come with certain recommended sequences based on the goals of the learner. But given my earlier comments on the organizational benefits of shorter courses, I would lean toward the latter option.
I agree, the arbitrary 20 credits we use as an institutional framework is based on us expecting students on full-time courses to do 120 credits in a year - and we divide that by 6 to get coverage around the subject. In some courses this split is obviously for campus based delivery over a liner course and should not constrain OERu courses.
In particular we have found that most 20 credit courses have been developed in the mind of the academic from a building box of content. So unpacking 20s into 5*4s or 4*5s has often been easier than building the 20 in the first place.
The challenge of "recommended sequences" remains - if the course is to be a micro assessed piece of learning then order might be completely student dependant as the structure of learning will reflect where they have come from and where they want to go. But that makes a big assumption of learner maturity and expertise. For many learners, particularly at the early stages of post-secondary learning, direction and guidance into the literacies of learning at this level are part of the requirement. Our challenge is to address both sets of learners (and others I've not yet imagined)!
From a previous life working across the 54 member states in the Commonwealth, 1200 hours of learning is pretty much the defacto standard for a full-time year of academic study. The differences between countries are usally the "standard" size of a course or paper, for example:
- In North America, a 3-year Bachelor's degree is 90 credits or 30 courses of 3 credits each.
- In New Zealand, a 3-year Bachelor's degree is 360 credits or 24 courses of 15 credits each.
In addition, degree study usually specifies the number of credits required at the different levels (1st year, 2nd year and 3rd year Bachelor's level)
What I like about the micro-course format is that it provides a useful mechansim for articulation at the year-level of study. At the micro level - -the difference between 40 notional learning hours compared to 50 notional learning hours is somewhat academic and these differences can be bridged by the notion of competencies (irrespective of the desigated learning hours.).
If we are working purely on learning hours -- it would appear that a +40 hour micro-course would faciliate maximum reuse within existing course structures for degrees on an international scale. Namely that 30 micro- courses would equate to a year of academic study. That seems like a doable solution for the OERu network to recognise a year of study, yet fit micro-courses into existing course / paper requirements at our instituions.
The PLAR / RPL experts in our networks will also provide good advice on how we can deal with these challenges.
So in theory it would be conceivable
"In North America, a 3-year Bachelor's degree is 90 credits or 30 courses of 3 credits each."
It's definitely conceivable. While most courses in North American schools are three credits, there are some that are one credit. For schools to make more extensive use of such shorter courses would be evolutionary, not revolutionary.
I am not sure where the 90 credit three year degree model came from. In most US colleges and universities the model is four years and 120 to 128 credits (Empire State College has 128 because students receive up to 8 credits for educational planning). At ESC most of our courses are 4 credits although you are correct that in most other the norm is 3 credits. Hope this sheds some light...the US higher ed system is confusing.
"I am not sure where the 90 credit three year degree model came from."
We were referring to North America. Canadians also use the semester-hour, but a few of their schools offer three year Bachelor's degrees that are 90 credits. Athabasca has a three year Bachelor of General Studies that is very permissive when it comes to transfer credit, for example.
Just for clarification, the idea of a three-year Bachelor program comes from the UK and Europe where the first year of the US system would be the last year of their high school. Also note that the US is not the only country that uses the 120+ credit, four year system. Many other countries, such as here in Thailand, use it too.
I spent a pleasant evening at a conference I was chairing last month with Bruce Chaloux of the Sloan Consortium and we spent time sharing how different our two systems were - even though fundamentally we are working towards the same thing. So it is not just the US system is confusing - all of our systems are confusing to each other.
as you probably know we in the UK have an undergraduate model that is the same as New Zealand - a bachelors degree with 3 years including 360 credits. However how these are split is for institutions to decide and some institutions split as 24 courses of 15 credits others 18 courses of 20 credits (as we do) or in some cases 12 course of 30 credits.
We are just launching a funded project with three South East Wales partners developing RPL for work-based learning and I expect synergies from that project and the OERu to be significant (as I'm project lead for both I certainly hope so).
You'd think we would have avoided a PLAR/RPL problem when 3 of the 4 words are the same. But as an institution which has a long record of using RPL I'd be interested to see if the A word is a philosophical barrier or simply a change of nomenclature. In RPL we would expect to include recognition of prior experiential learning as well as recognition of prior certificated/assessed learning. Hence I might read the A in PLAR to imply it was about recognising the assessment of learning rather than assessing through the process of recognising prior learning. I'd welcome some clarification from our PLAR experts. Until this moment I’d just seen PLAR as a different acronym for RPL, but I now wonder if I was wrong?
Good point: it's not easy to be first institution in the chain to recognize credit from experiential learning. It's always easier and safer to let someone else do that and then figure out a scheme to translate from one system of assessment and recognition to another. Less risky I guess - we feel most comfortable operating in the "credit environment" as I've heard it termed. Yet as higher education institutions, shouldn't we be able to excel at assessing all kinds of learning? Here's hoping the A in PLAR isn't seen as a Scarlett Letter in HE...
Every year for the last 11 years I've run two or three sessions a year for academic colleagues who are being challenged to assess and credit experiential learning, first in my role as Deputy Director of our Business School and now as Head of our Learning and Teaching unit.
I'd hoped it would have become so much a part of the culture by now that we would be sharing practice with each other. But every time it seems to come new to staff. Maybe this reflects the high turnover of academic staff and the lack of this approach across other Higher Education Institutions, but I'm almost bored of hearing myself explaining it now, perhaps I should have created it as an OER from the start so others would still be learning without me having to repeat myself :-)
But OERu and the RPL project gives me a good focus institutionally to reaffirm the agenda.
@Haydn Blackey PLEASE DO make it! re - "perhaps I should have created it as an OER from the start so others would still be learning without me having to repeat myself :-)"
And I am not sure about 'other places' but in Australia there are some auditors - ie the people who say - 'yes good job' or 'No you are out' (and versions along the scale :)) - who could may be also benfit from such a course ....
If i had a dollar (of any currency) for every time i heard 'an auditor' say ... "ummm that 'rpl thing' " (while looking like they are suckiing lemons ...) well ... you know the rest :)
Having said that - I do KNOW some 'institutions' - (said in a way that I LOOK like i am sucking lemons!) *think* it is a short cut to a quick, dirty, nasty buck ($ - in any currency). And THAT helps no one ...
a good reality check. I particularly like your comment:
Having said that - I do KNOW some 'institutions' - (said in a way that I LOOK like i am sucking lemons!) *think* it is a short cut to a quick, dirty, nasty buck ($ - in any currency). And THAT helps no one ...
Aren't they in for a big surprise when it is the opposite of a cheap and easy way :-)
Hayden, I wonder if part of the problem is that syndrome of expecting others to do it "the way we did it." In other words, it may be more difficult for educators who achieved their credentials and careers by traditional methods now to adopt different methods for their eventual successors. In the longer term, we will (one hopes!) eventually have educators in place who gained at least part of their education and credentials through RPL/PLAR - and then things may be different.
A good point Irwin,
I wonder if we down play this element of staff re-enforcing their own. One of my PhD students who successfully completed her viva yesterday (so I guess she is a student no longer but a graduand) had been researching student assessment – many of you will guess that the most significant staff driver for the form of assessment was "that's how I was assessed when I did my degree"!
As someone who studied via the UK Open University I suspect I am a keen advocate of flexible models of learning as my career in academia would not have been possible without studying while doing a full time job in industry. Perhaps that's what makes me such an advocate for flexible, responsive education - because I don't see any other way as practical or sustainable.
Hi Haydn: It sounds like you and I have a lot in common...did you know that there is a whole PLA-PLA/R network mostly here in the US through CAEL (which I think stands for the Council on Adult Experiential Learning)...it has a group on LinkedIn...Empire State College has also been editing a new peer reviewed journal on the topic...my colleagues Alan Mandel and Nan Travers are the editors. At any rate, I think it might be good to link into those networks as well. PLA is becoming much more important in the US than ever before...even President Obama knows about it and has mentioned it in his plans for higher education. All the best. Joyce McKnight
Thanks for that heads up Joyce - I just applied to join that group. I often use 'evidence' from LI within a person's portfolio for recognition :)
That's really interesting Joyce,
RPL is also becoming a topic that our ministers are talking about. Unfortunately though I think they sometimes see it as the 'quick and dirty' route to post-secondary education, as Kathleen mentioned, when it is often not.
Haydn, This is often a challenge I think.
Sometimes, once people in power hear or think ‘it is cheaper’ the classic situation where money drives the decision making / policy direction can take over, with not enough reflection on all the implications and consideration of all the variables at play.
While I do understand (in a fairly limited way to be honest) the issues of cost effectiveness / efficiency and maximising the outcomes and value of finite resources etc … being open to various options to help mix and match the best and right processes for different reasons and situations still must be the foundation I think.
Sounds a bit like the OERu .. does it? (Must be one of the reasons I like it here so much, and the great company too of course)
As far as my knowledge goes the two concepts are the same depending in which part of the world you're working. The philosophical debates are usually associated with institutions who do "so-called" RPL trying to map outcomes of individual courses to experience and calling this RPL. The PLAR/RPL purists don't like that stuff being called PLAR because its basically course assessment ;-). Speaking personally, its not an issue for me -- the more ways learners can earn academic credit the better in my view.
The beauty of PLAR/RPL is that is provides the flexibility for recognising both experiential learning and certified / assessed learning as a coherent system which leads to formal academic credit. We're very fortunate to have some of the world leaders in PLAR/RPL within our OERu network including the pioneer of individualised degrees SUNY ESC and institutions like Athabasca University, Thompson Rivers University and Otago Polytechnic and USW who all have progressive PLAR/RPL operations. We can definitely share notes and experiences to help us in using PLAR/RPL policy protocols for recognising OERu credits towards credentials. For partners who don't have existing PLAR/RPL systems in place we can help them get started. For example, Otago Polytechnic's PLAR policy is available under a CC-BY license and can be adapted to suite local needs.
I have been Watching, Analysing, Investigating, and Thinking – as in WAITing (ie ‘lurking’ but I really hate that term, so I made up my own!) and learning - & I was a virtual participant in the original meeting (can’t find the link sorry).
I have some things to say about PLAR/RPL but I am still working the ‘WAITing’ aspect of that.
But overall I am a STRONG, passionate and highly experienced Australian advocate owning a very small Assessment Only ‘RTO’ (Registered Training Organisation) operating in the vocational sector.
In response to Wayne’s comment above: here are the terms and definition of ‘learning’ as they apply to the Australian Context and maybe others … for RTOs in Australia these are embedded within our legislation via the definition in SNR3 (sorry to be so ‘parochial’ and I am sure all other jurisdictions have similar)
Learning means the process followed by a learner. There are three types:
(a) Formal learning refers to learning that takes place through a structured program of instruction and is linked to the attainment of a formal qualification or award (for example, a certificate, diploma or university degree);
(b) Non-formal learning refers to learning that takes place through a structured program of instructions, but does not lead to the attainment of a formal qualification or award (for example, in-house professional development programs conducted by a business); and
(c) Informal learning refers to learning that results through experience of work-related, social, family, hobby or leisure activities (for example the acquisition of interpersonal skills developed through several years as a sales representative).
I think an understanding of terminology, and in a perfect world, some kind of commonality, is really important.
I also want to say that Joyce McKnight (along with others) has been a bit of a hero or “from a distance” mentor (without her even knowing it) of mine and if ‘she’ wanted me to convert to the term “PLAR” I would in heart beat!
(‘converting comment’ is said with an attempt at humour I KNOW Joyce is not trying to convert anyone)
I prefer the concept of "Active observer" -- far better description of the "lurkers" who are watching OERu developments and have been participating in our OERu mOOC prototypes.
Great to have one of our "Active observers" from the very first meeting still with us. A great example of the value of open philanthropy, open planning etc. As Paul Stacey mentioned - "Distinctively open". I think we should use that strap line in the OERu launch website. I'll see what we can do to incorporate this in the launch website.
wish this had a 'like' button ... (yes FB indoctrinated person here - and let's not even go down the ‘emoticon’ pathway :)
I am humbled to learn that I am a mentor to you...how wonderful for me! I like your WAIT acronym...watching,analysing, investigating, and thinking...I will have to commit that to memory. As an adult educator, I also appreciated your succinct definitions of the three types of learning (I had them almost "pounded into" me as a grad student). PLA and PLA-R are actually new terms to me (for 40 years Empire State College used the term credit by evaluation and then someone told us that the rest of the world calls it PLA or PLA-R so we decided to join the world). At any rate, I am glad that there is someone else who is interested in assessing learning outside the classroom...and amazed and immensely pleased that you see me as a mentor! (Tons of smiles) JMcK
My pleasure Joyce :) I think it is interesting that these definitions are actually embedded within the legal framework RTOs must operate under.
I like that and I think it gives credibility to ‘informal’ learning in particular. One thing I am always mindful of tho is that in reality these can become entwined.
For example: Mary becomes the President of her local school council and has to do a ‘marketing plan’. She ‘runs around the internet’ learning how to write one. (or maybe she will come to the OERu). She also sees a seminar on marketing run by her local council and she attends.
She develops it and presents it to her committee. They work on it, implement it and enrolments go up the following year. She does such a good job she wants to help other schools and thinks ‘It might be good if I could show I know this stuff’.
She takes ‘the evidence’ of the above (plus other stuff) and goes to ‘somewhere’ and says . “Look I KNOW this and can DO this”
She is assessed and receives ‘a piece of paper’ certifying that she indeed does how to develop, implement, review and evaluate a marketing plan. This might just be a unit or maybe a couple of units and maybe a few years later she builds on that towards further ‘credentials’ maybe even enrolling in a ‘traditional’ formal learning course (or maybe not)
The best thing about the story above is both non-formal (seminar) and informal (real ‘life’ experience) can be ‘recognised’ (if she wants to) and then built upon, again if she wants to.
This to me is such an organic and real world learning experience. I still find some of my colleagues who find it hard to believe that unless Mary was taught (by them) HOW to write a Marketing Plan … then, well, she wouldn’t really know how to do it ‘properly’ ….. would she? :)
You know that 'LIKE' button you mentioned in an earlier post Kathleen - well I would be wanting to push it on this one.
It so mirrors my experience, half a world away, both as someone who has given formal credit for exactly the example you suggested based on non-formal and informal learning and as someone who finds colleagues looking at me strangely when they realise you can learn without having to be taught. And that supporters of learning is as valid an academic career path as standing up and talking!
This is my passion and I tend to get almost evangelical about it. (not saying that is a good thing)
I have so many stories, as do others I am sure. One of my favourites is old(er) bloke who ran a hugely successful tyre shop, but ‘didn’t do much good at that book learning stuff’, truly believed he wouldn’t have much evidence, then proceeded to overwhelm and delight me with his knowledge skills and overall competence in management.
When finally achieving a Certificate IV in Business, he got almost teary, was extraordinarily proud and later even enrolled in ‘formal education’ to pursue other avenues based on the fact that recognition gave him the confidence to do so. The process of recognition literally changed his life and the way he viewed himself.
I also should say I was the first in my family to be lucky enough to 'go to uni' thanks to the policies of the government at that time - & will remain forever grateful for that experience and opportunity. It changed my life.
So I really do value and support learning in all its forms and the wide and varied ways of assessing learning - if indeed, any (formal anyway) process of 'assessment' is part of the process for a person or situation ...
I am really loving this whole seminar overall. thanks to all for such interesting posts ....
yes so many impactful stories. We have someone working in the Quality Office in our own institution who had left school at 16 with little or no qualifications. He had become a junior at a small newspaper, they spotted his talent and appointed him as a journalist, before long he began to manage a team of 15 other journalists. Then he married and moved and found his experience without qualifications did not find him an easy next job. So he came here to work in a very junior admin post, but through his own commitment and capacity again was promoted time and again. It was a real pleasure to be able to accredit his work and life experience against the level 6, bachelors framework. He not only know it, he had done it too. Through the process he kept telling me he couldn't get recognition because 'everyone does the same' - the truth was, no they didn't! Of course based on that engagement with level 6 learning he has gone on to formal learning and is now studying a Masters in Business Administration.
It is a pleasure to share these stories and like you I have many more examples. I think it is why the OERu is so dead to me. My own commitment is because I am the first in my family to achieve higher education qualifications - and in my case I didn't 'go to uni' but had it come to me while doing a full-time job.
a clear and coherent overview, as ever. It is helpful to understand the context.
I just did a whole series of lectures on several different brands of PLA (or whatever letters you want to use)...course cognates...the kind that match existing courses, essays that justify college level credit even though there may not be an exact course match, and a kind of hybrid. In the SUNY system I "own" my lectures and I labeled them with the license so if you all want them I will gladly give them to you...just let me know where to post. JMcK
Hi Haydn: For years Empire State College has awarded credit for both course equivalency and for experiential college level learning. For almost forty of those years we didn't call it PLA or PLA-R, or RPL (which was new to me in this conversation) but credit-by-evaluation or CBE...we only changed that designation when we realized that the rest of the world was talking about PLA or PLA-R. It was kind of odd because we were one of the first institutions in the US (and probably the world) to actually offer such credit, but we spent so many years just serving students and generally "doing our own thing" that we found ourselves "catching-up"...that said I think that there may be three rather different learning experiences that can receive recognition...courses from non-accredited entities that match courses from accredited colleges, course equivalencies based on syllabi from accredited colleges demonstrating that the student has learned what s/he would have learned in class, and (this is the unique part) credit for high level learning that does not have a course equivalent anywhere but nevertheless is demonstrably advanced. It is a very interesting process for the evaluator...For instance,my most recent one as an evaluator is on Critical Race Theory and promises to be thoroughly fascinating and from what I can see from the student's description of his learning will probably definitely be worth the 8 advanced level credits he has requested. So bottom line, I don't think the letters really matter too much it's the spirit of the thing.
You are so right Joyce it is the 'spirit of the thing' - and as we talked above before (above?) - even when 'learning' is labelled (formal, informal, non-formal - etc etc) the reality is most learning actually touches on more than one at a time anyway ..
thanks for the explanation and for the clarity offered by your three models. Like you we have used all three as a means of recognising learning. I agree that the last approach is the ideal, though challenging to undertake it has rich rewards for the learner and the academic staff member.
Speaking of acronyms, right down the road from Empire State College, we've used CBE to mean "credit by examination"--following the same principles as ESC, but with an eye to developing scalable models for evaluating learning in some of the more common subjects. I love the intensive evaluation model for those interesting subjects (Critical Race Theory--wow!) that deserve individual attention, but having exams for subjects such as statistics or abnormal psychology can be a good way to evaluate learning without having to go in and evaluate numerous different courses in the same subject.
Good point Mikka--for those colleges that use exams, they are a good alternative since ESC hardly ever uses exams even in our online courses, that would not work for us...and I have taught here so long, I tend to forget that exams even exist...LOL (we usually use papers and, even more frequently projects tailored to the student's interests to preclude purchase of papers online).
Maybe I am just feeling grumpy Wayne--but you keep referring to North America and 90 hours...is the US not a part of North America? Perhaps more to the point, how can we fit in to the model? I have to "sell" this a bit here...and it gets complicated.
I think we (OERu) need to fit the US model as well as the Commonwealth models if we can...or at least I would very much like to fit in.
No need to feel grumpy. I intentionally chose the example of a 3-year 90 credit Bachelors Degree to highlight the issues and solutions which exist. The Transnational Qualifications Framework developed by the Commonwealth of Learning is designed to address these differences. That's our solution -- a wheel we don't need to reinvent because it is openly licensed.
North America provides an excellent example of how course articulation works across state and national borders using a "standard" credit system. US credits are readily recognised by Canadian univeristies because there is a common understanding of "3 credit" courses adding up to 120 credits for the more widely used 4-year bachelor's degree in the US (and Canada).
The 3 -year Bachelors degree is common in many countries of the Commonwealth (former British colonies.) and there are examples of 4-year bachelors degrees in this part of the world.
I do want to clear a common misconception about these differences and an illustration of the value of a Transnational Qualifications Framework (TQF) - John mentioned that first year of the US system would be the last year of high school [[in many Commonwealth countries]]. This is not true, In New Zealand for example, we have an optional Year 13 which is an "extra" year of high school. This is not a replacement for the first year of university study to make up the "difference" between a 3-year and 4-year Bachelors degree. Year 13 is an option used by many New Zealand students to widen their range of credits providing wider choice and options for tertiary study. Year 12 high school graduates can gain entry into first-year university study in New Zealand. This highlights the importance of level descriptors in the TQF distinguishing, for example between the learning outcomes for high school, 1st year degree, 2nd year degree levels etc.
In Commonwealth countries which use a 3-year bachelor's degree, we would not allow entry into Master's degree study without the "additional" year. We have what is known as an "Honours Degree" which for practical purposes is the parallel of the 4th year of a Bachelors Degree in North Amercia. Some Master's programmes will allow 3-year bachelor degree graduates entry into the programme, but these Master's courses will typically embed an additional year (the "4th year") within the Masters degree.
Joyce -- in short the US system does map internationally, but I was using the example to highlight the importance for the OERu to adopt a TQF so that we are comparing apples with apples (so to speak) when managing course articulation on an international level.
This is less complicated than it appears. All OERu anchor partners will have internal mechanisms and policy protocols to recognise offshore study for learners who migrate to their country having completed a number of credits offshore. We just need to agree a common language for levels, hours of study and/or competencies for the OERu courses we develop and agree to cross credit. Thats what the TQF will do for us.
you probably know this already, but for clarification your comment:
In Commonwealth countries which use a 3-year bachelor's degree, we would not allow entry into Master's degree study without the "additional" year. We have what is known as an "Honours Degree" which for practical purposes is the parallel of the 4th year of a Bachelors Degree in North America. Some Master's programmes will allow 3-year bachelor degree graduates entry into the programme, but these Master's courses will typically embed an additional year (the "4th year") within the Masters degree.
Applies to many commonwealth countries and to Scotland, but not to England and Wales where the 3 year qualification is a Honours Degree.
You made my day! Had a good chuckle. In jest, given my Scottish blood from a few generations ago -- I was hoping that this finer detail would be overlooked. Trust our Welsh freinds to see the error in my ways ;-).
Well I'll bow to the superiority of Wales -- we don't have any OERu partners from Scotland yet :-(.
On a more serious note -- more justification for our OERu network to be thinking about a transnational qualifications framework.
glad I made you laugh - it is always a pleasure and a relief.
On a more serious note -- more justification for our OERu network to be thinking about a transnational qualifications framework
And if OERu can achieve that alongside its other developments we will have made a great breakthrough.
Thanks from me Haydn...as one of the few non-Commonwealth folks in this discussion I was totally lost when Wayne started talking about "North American" three year degrees...the US has none of those...although we do have ways high school students can take college level courses at times and we do have a few blended bachelors and masters programs but those are few and far between and vary from institution to institution. It is becoming clearer and clearer to me how different the US system is and how "institutionally individualistic" we are compared to the Commonwealth and perhaps to the rest of Europe as well. Individualistic rebels to the end...I guess.
Another US-based person chiming in--I think one difference between "standard" 120-credit US degrees and 90-credit degrees or 3-year degrees in much of the rest of the world has to do with our General Education requirements. This harks back to a discussion on one of the other forums about the value of a General Studies bachelor's degree, which is apparently quite low in Europe and many other places. In the US a Liberal Studies degree does have some acceptance, in part because we have the idea of a core of knowledge that any bachelor's-level graduate should have. There is certainly a lot of tension at the moment between proponents of liberal arts education and those who believe higher education should be more closely tied to specific fields of work, but it's an interesting discussion. The relevance for OERu, I think, is that, at least in the US, many potential courses could be used either towards the core of a specific degree or towards General Education requirements for any degree--so such courses would likely be more broadly useful than highly specialized ones.
One thing I've always admired about the US higher education system is the wide spread philosophy of a liberal studies education.
Speaking from personal experience, my base degree was a vocational degree preparing me for the Accounting profession. This is served me well, but if I reflect on my work over the last decade, I would have been better prepared for my task with a liberal studies foundation. I do think there is value in a Bachelor of General studies -- and as you point out, OERu courses can be used towards specific degrees.
We should keep the "reuse" scenario of OERu courses for specific degrees in mind as a potential filter for nominating OERu courses.