How to Get Credit for a MOOC

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationDespite all the publicity surrounding massive open online courses (MOOCs), it seems that very few college students have actually taken advantage of the opportunity to enroll in extremely low-cost MOOCs and transfer their earned credit to their colleges. Evidence of this can be found in the startling flop of MOOCs for credit at the University of Colorado’s Global Campus.

There are plenty of reasons for this lack of enthusiasm among students:

  • MOOCs are still unfamiliar to students, who may balk at the idea of being only one of thousands of students enrolled in an online course in which their peers, not the faculty, conducts the grading and assessment of their work.
  • Most schools do not have partnerships with MOOC providers such as Udacity, Coursera, and edX, [insert links] and even if they do, many students are unaware of the option to take a MOOC for credit.
  • Students who do not feel comfortable working independently may prefer the interaction they have in person with other students and faculty. After all, how many students look at college as one big opportunity to socialize?

Another big issue, though, is that MOOCs may not be marketed correctly, as explained by English professor and blogger Steve Krause:

“MOOCs have a serious audience problem … the vast majority of people participating in MOOCs right now … are older people who already have college degrees and who are taking MOOCs for ‘edutainment’ … This represents a complete miss of the audience Udacity and Coursera actually want and need to make any money at this. People taking MOOCs for edutainment are not going to pay anything for credit hours because they don’t want or need them.”

But I think there’s another reason that MOOCs have not taken off the way everyone thought they would: students simply do not understand the process of finding, enrolling in, and getting credit for a MOOC. This could be related to the above-described marketing problem, but there are also enough concerns about MOOCs, from whether or not they correspond in breadth and depth to their traditional face-to-face counterparts to how outcomes can be accurately assessed, that students may balk at enrolling in one. Nonetheless, accrediting agencies have already begun to approve MOOCs for college credit. Students- and their advisers -will need to learn how to navigate the MOOC world in order to maximize student success.

This Definitive Guide to Getting Credit for a MOOC provides the necessary information every student needs to consider when thinking about enrolling in a MOOC. Follow the steps outlined below if you want to first explore MOOCs and then opt to enroll and earn credit in one:

  1. Understand just exactly what a MOOC is. MOOCs are not the same as other forms of online learning. Even if you think you understand online learning, you must realize that MOOCs, even though they also occur online, are not the same. MOOCs are massive open online courses that anyone can participate in and are usually offered for free, with options to earn a certificate of completion (after paying a fee) or, increasingly, college credit for a higher fee. In a MOOC, a student watches lectures and PowerPoint presentations, takes online quizzes, and/or submits written work that will be evaluated most often by peers, because it’s impossible for a professor to grade 100,000 assignments in one course. If you are still confused about the MOOC concept, check out
  2. Decide if the format is right for you. Before you get excited about earning credit for only a small fee, think very carefully about whether or not you can succeed in a MOOC. Online students in general need to be comfortable working on their own; as the University of Louisville points out, online learners need to be extremely self-motivated. This is especially true for students enrolled in MOOCs, which usually provide no individualized attention to students and where you will probably be just one of thousands of students in the course. If you perform better academically in smaller courses and through direct interaction with your instructors, you might do very poorly in a MOOC, or even fail the course. If that happens, you’ll get no credit, and lose your money and time. It’s important to think very carefully about whether a MOOC is right for you or not.
  3. Read your college catalog and website carefully. The American Council on Education recently approved five specific STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) courses for MOOC credit, but that doesn’t mean that you will be able to transfer them to any college. Some colleges have rejected MOOCs. In April,  Amherst College turned down an invitation to participate in edX, the high-prestige open education and MOOC partnership between Harvard and MIT. Each school establishes its own process by which its students enroll in MOOCs.  In addition, some colleges include MOOCs as part of their regular course offerings, either as fully online courses or as part of a hybrid course. If you have any doubts about whether or not your college accepts MOOCs, speak with your adviser or someone at the college who can provide documentation of the school’s MOOC program or policy.
  4. Don’t assume you can earn credit through the MOOC provider. As edX explains, universities in their program “do not currently offer formal academic credit for edX coursework and do not certify that MOOC students have met the same requirements as matriculated students taking the original course on which the MOOC is based.” So, if you enroll in a MOOC through your school and it appears on your schedule, you may or may not earn credit for it-you must verify that through your own college. However, if you take a MOOC outside of your college, on your own, there’s really no guarantee you will be able to transfer it for credit. The MOOC provider itself does not offer credit. You verify that the MOOC credit will transfer to your college by speaking-and preferably getting the answer in writing-with your own college.
  5. Document your participation. You must work independently when you take a MOOC, and part of that means making sure you can prove your participation to the college to which you wish to transfer credit. You cannot rely on the MOOC provider to assist in this; as explained by edX, “EdX does not currently offer transcripts or proof of registration for the purpose of obtaining credit.” That’s why it’s important, at this time, to enroll in a MOOC through your university. It may also be a good idea to take screen shots or save your work in separate files. If for some reason your college questions the validity of your MOOC experience, it’s important to be able to prove that you completed the required course work.
  6. Make sure the MOOC appears on your transcript. Check your enrollment after the semester begins. If the MOOC offered by your college does not appear on your transcript while you are taking it, you may not actually be enrolled according to your college. Similarly, if you take a MOOC and arrange to transfer credit but it does not appear on your transcript after completion, you need to fix that right away, because your financial aid may be affected if it appears you are not enrolled in enough courses to merit full or even part-time status.  Again, verify everything with your school’s advising and financial aid offices.

I am very much on the fence about MOOCs. I see far too many students struggle in small courses even though they have plenty of direct support through tutoring and faculty assistance. I’ve spent hours working with students whose learning challenges really preclude any meaningful academic progress. I worry that those students will embrace MOOCs as a viable alternative to the stressful classroom environment, particularly if they have not had stellar academic experiences. I don’t think that MOOCs will work for all students.

But I am also enough of a utopian dreamer to think that MOOCs may be a democratization of learning that opens opportunity in higher education to anyone who wants it. One thing I do know is that no matter what happens, you need to understand a MOOC to benefit from it. The above suggestions will help you do just that.

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