Friday, January 24, 2014

Free Online Short Courses to Prepare for Certification

Charles Sturt University (CSU) are offering a Free Short Course: Network Security Administrator Certification. This is run on-line over 5 weeks, with live webinars (and optional recordings) and students expected to do 10-12 hours of study. Several aspects make this different to Massive open Online Courses (MOOCs) being offered by other institutions. Fist of all there is a live component to the course, not just recordings. Also the course is intended to prepare the student for an external certification (ENSA). It is also significant that this  is described as a "short course" with no mention of "MOOC", or the hype surrounding them. As I said at the Inaugural Student Experience Conference, in Sydney, I expect to see the MOOC Bubble burst, with most MOOCs abandoned by the end of 2014.

CSU point out that the short course is based on their Master of Information Systems Security. Clearly the short free course is being used to promote the full for-fee degree program. This would appear to be a viable business model for free courses. A student who completes the short course would be predisposed to enrolling in the degree program.

However, students who undertake the free course to prepare for external certification may not realise the large commitment of time and effort required. Last year I completed two certificates in education, one through regular courses (partly in the classroom and partly on-line) and one by Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). In theory the RPL should have been easier, as it just required me to collate and present evidence of what I had done previously. But this turned out to be harder than going through a structured course, where you get guidance on what to do and where there are many small milestones on the way to completion.

Also, using a free short course to promote longer for-fee programs might backfire on some universities, presenting a false impression of their programs. Some MOOCs appear to be provided by universities which don' generally offer on-line courses (not the case with CSU who are a leader in on-line education). Also the MOOCs are at a far lower academic standard than regular courses. It will not do a university much good to attract students with one type of course at one level, sign up and pay for a degree program, only to find it is not offered on-line and is far harder.

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