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MOOCs dominate recent news and reports in next generation learning, while Southern New Hampshire makes history with competency-based learning.

Last month, Kristen Vogt inaugurated a monthly series on the latest news and reports on next generation learning, contributing the view from the postsecondary sphere. Leading off her inaugural post were notes on the rapidly evolving new federal policies about financial aid funding eligibility for competency-based, self-paced degree programs.  

Since then, we’ve seen further moves to bring competency-based programs from out-there experiments to ground-breaking early examples.  In mid-April, putting an end to months of anticipation, NGLC breakthrough college completion model grantee Southern New Hampshire University made news by being the first institution approved by the Department of Education to offer federal financial aid for an entirely competency-based degree. This major news story was reported in the Wall Street Journal, as well as in the education sector media: the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog, the New America Foundation’s education policy blog, and elsewhere. At the same time, Inside Higher Ed reported that the Higher Learning Commission of Colleges and Schools has assembled a pilot group of institutions that will offer direct assessment programs: the group includes Northern Arizona University, home of another NGLC Wave IIIb degree program, the Personalized Learning Division.

All of us at NGLC follow the news-packed EdSurge listserv, a weekly compilation of developments among entrepreneurs seeking to serve the expanding marketplace for technologies to improve education. This list and the related website receive support from the Gates Foundation, the Washington Post, and the NewSchools Venture Fund. That’s where we learned of another  MOOC platform coming out of Stanford University, the home institution of the two computer science faculty members who launched  Coursera in 2012: NovoEd, with a focus on collaboration, team building, and training for peer evaluation.  Seven Stanford courses are currently being offered for free on the new platform.  And it’s not just entrepreneurs who are paying attention to MOOCs. No less a voice than Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, used MOOCs as the hook to lead off his reflection in Inside Higher Ed on the history of higher education’s evolution in the US, “MOOCs, History and Context.”  And if you’re keen to follow everything in the MOOCisphere, you might consider keeping an eye on MOOC News and Reviews. That’s where we came upon an early report of outcomes from a developmental math MOOC at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. (This course is one of the set which the Gates Foundation funded last fall to see how MOOCs, which so far seem most often to focus on advanced coursework, might help in developmental education.)

MOOCs are part of the story – but not the whole story – in “State U Online,” a new paper from Education Sector by Rachel Fishman. Like Arthur Levine, she also starts with a look back, in this case at the history of distance learning, and moves on to an outline of five steps toward integrating online offerings of state universities. Included are case studies of successful efforts in the Wisconsin, Minnesota, Georgia, and Florida state systems, as well as a regional collaborative called Great Lakes IDEA. Her recommended steps include establishing a clearinghouse, centralizing and sharing online student support services, and sharing contracts for digital platforms.

And last but not least, a report from the Instructional Technology Council released in April, “Trends in eLearning: Tracking the Impact of eLearning at Community Colleges,” filled us in on the results of an ITC survey showing that distance education enrollments grew by 6.5 percent from fall 2011 to fall 2012.  This pace is slower than in previous years, but still distance education has been increasing while overall student enrollment declined by 2.6 percent. Like all other reports on higher education trends this spring, the ITC’s includes a section on the rise of MOOCs that mentions the Gates Foundation’s funding last fall of those high-quality MOOCs to engage students in general and developmental education, like the one at UW-Lacrosse noted above, and provides timely updates on policy changes at the federal level affecting student financial aid.