Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Is Academic Credit Worth the Money?

Joanne Jacobs links to a really interesting experiment in free learning. Particularly interesting is the no-cost study abroad program. I think initially, most employers will resist hiring prospects with knowledge, but no degree or academic credit. In time, employers will figure out how to assess these potential employees and hire them.

If I needed a python programmer, I would gladly consider a kid who learned to program through self-study and free online courses. The challenge for academics such as myself will be to make the case for what value academic credit and a degree add to a students' credentials. As self-study and free online courses become more mainstream and accepted, making that case will become more and more difficult.

Free learning: Yes to Romanian, no to physics
Josh Dean of Popular Science tried out free, no-credit online courses to see if he could actually educate himself. The answer: Yes to Romanian and Kitchen Chemistry (why cooking works), no to physics and biology.

His Free Online School Rules:

  1. You get what you pay for. ‘Free’ means no asking questions in the middle of class, which can be a dealbreaker with a subject as potentially confusing as physics.
  2. That said, it might help if you actually buy the textbook.
  3. Free online learning is not going to teach you anything substantial overnight, or in a week (unless you are Rain Man, in which case you’re just memorizing anyway). Plan to do a whole course.
  4. There are few things better than hot bread made with your own two hands, especially when you understand the science of why it’s so delicious.
  5. We are at the beginning of this experiment, not the end.

Dean tells the tale of two recent college grads who’ve designed a no-cost study abroad program using MIT’s OpenCourseWare. Ann Nguyen and Alison Cole will work on environmental engineering projects in India, while ‘using the syllabi from MIT OCW’s courses in ground hydrology, soil behavior and aquatic chemistry to construct a program that will study arid-land restoration.’ They’ll run up no grad-school debt, but they’ll also acquire no academic credits. Will future employers be impressed? That remains to be seen.

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