A report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommends massive open online education (MOOCs) should be given a break from the federal government and the accreditors. The PCAST report suggests the bar for course accreditation has been set too high and could discourage innovation.
“The Federal Government (and in particular, the U.S. Department of Education) should continue to encourage regional accrediting bodies to be flexible in recognizing that many standards normally required for an accredited degree should be modified in the online arena,” wrote the authors of the report. “If the bar for accreditation is set too high, the infant industry developing MOOC and related technology platforms may struggle to realize its full potential.”
The report also recommends the government should let market forces decide how online education should move forward. PCAST suggested that grant programs should be created to encourage research on MOOCs and online education, with that information available to all through a national exchange.
“It would also be premature to impose standards and regulations that might impair the power of competitive market forces to motivate innovation,” the report stated. “The Federal Government can best encourage innovation in this critical sector by letting the market work.”
Needless to say, accreditors were less-than-thrilled with the idea that they may be biased against anything except traditional classroom instruction.
“There seems to be some worry about MOOCs, but I have not heard of a single MOOC that has suffered at the hands of accreditation,” said Sylvia Manning, president of the higher learning commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, in an article for Inside Higher Education. “Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that ‘innovative’ and ‘good’ are not necessarily synonyms, and innovation cannot serve as a cloak of immunity to criticism” Accreditors must reserve the right to call out poor quality whether it be innovative of stodgy.”