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edX MOOC-Based Micro-Masters Expand to Multiple Universities

An experiment by MIT to test out a credential program delivered as a MOOC has blossomed into 19 different "micro-masters" offered by nearly as many members of the edX consortium. Last year MIT launched a modular credential in supply chain management that was free, had no admissions requirements and could shave a full semester off of a regular master's degree in the same discipline. Now MIT is repeating that program, alongside a number of additional institutions offering their own micro-masters. As was true with the MIT experiment, each MOOC course will be free; students may choose to pay for certificates. Also, the initiative will offer a blended learning option for some students in a partnership with Pearson.

The idea is to provide a set of graduate level courses in specific fields that would be recognized by employers for their "real job relevance," as the edX MicroMasters site explained.

Programs will include these:

Each will follow its own schedule, certificate pricing and study expectations. As an example, the UX credential will encompass nine courses, each running four weeks; certificates will be priced at $99 per course. The effort will take three to five hours per week. U Michigan's micro-master in social work will have six courses running six weeks apiece, with certificates priced at $199 each; that's estimated to require eight to 10 hours per week of effort. And the educational innovation program will have five courses, each running six weeks, and certificates priced between $199 and $249.

Although the schools are expecting the credentials to have "stand-alone" value among hiring managers, they're also promoting the programs as a way to earn a full master's degree in an accelerated manner, by covering a quarter or a half of the full program. That would require going through the admissions process for each institution, with the assumption that by then the applicant would have had the chance to prove his or her abilities in the given field of study.

"We see these online offerings as a way to expand our academic reach, presenting learners with opportunities they might not otherwise have to study with the School of Information," said Thomas Finholt, U Michigan's School of Information dean, in a prepared statement. "The micro-masters courses present a flexible, accessible option, whether the student enrolls for professional development, to sample the graduate school experience or for academic credit."

More broadly, the micro-masters are intended to offer an agile approach for helping students prepare for the workplace. "College graduates want to advance professionally, but are realizing they do not have the career-relevant skills that the modern workplace demands. EdX recognizes this mismatch between business and education for learners, employees and employers," said Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX and an MIT professor. "The MicroMasters initiative provides the next level of innovation in learning to address this skills gap by creating a bridge between higher education and industry to create a skillful, successful 21st-century workforce."

For people who would prefer in-person support, edX is working with education technology company Pearson in offering some of the micro-masters at local Pearson learning centers to provide students with access to others pursuing similar education goals and additional learning resources.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect corrections related to the new programs' fee structure. There is no fee on the MOOC courses themselves, only on the certificates issued by each.. [Last updated Sept. 21, 2010 at 11:31 p.m.] --Joshua Bolkan

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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