I’ve articulated this idea quite a few times around my place of work, but am yet to find any takers willing to try it out. I’ve had some local and rather limited criticisms and reality checks, mostly pointing to external auditing bodies who may technically have a problem with the idea, but nothing strong enough to deter my thinking/delusion that its a good idea. So I’d like to know, especially from the kiwis, if something like this is being done anywhere else, or if you think I’m totally out of my tree and should go back to Australia?

The idea:

Relating to the scenario in What would it be like to be the rain, and especially Learning for Free, Education for Cost – where a person has the opportunity to attend class activities, and complete assessment tasks for free, but to gain certification – must pay a fee. And thinking only in terms of adult or tertiary education here…

The idea is made up of 4 parts.

1. Make ALL learning environments, resources, and assessment activities for a course freely available, openly, without restrictions such as fees and log ins. This obviously creates havoc for many courses, not least the question of how to sustain it financially (which is dealt with in part 4) but more notably is the issue of quality of the resources to be made openly available, especially the copyright clearances of the content to be used. This open and free access can pretty much rule out almost all courses we offer, as the protection of the passwords and fee paid classrooms ensures few people see, therefore few people question quality or copy. So free and open is a good pressure in my view.

2. Break the course down into as small as practical units of study. Make the study of these as asynchronous as possible. Make the units as scalable to as many paths of study as possible. The smaller the course, the easier it is to offer it more repetitively. The more asynchronous it can be, the more flexible the learning of it can be. The more scalable it is, the more value it can have in other areas of study. A person could choose to do the unit in one hit or over several instances and from different contextual view points. Clearly I am still holding onto the old reusable learning object idea here – but less about software, more about learning design.

3. Allow free access to the course. Free access to the learning resources, participation in class activities, communication with teachers and students, and submission of assessment tasks for feedback – all without charge.

4. Keep records of the students who complete assessment tasks including any feedback given, but only award accreditation to those who have paid the fee. Because good records are kept, recognition of prior learning later in a student’s life is streamlined. You can encourage students to apply for scholarship grants or employer sponsorship and the like and having the assurance of a pass based on the free participation will assist in confidence to pay the fee. Accreditation is only awarded when a fee is paid. Students can’t get formal transcripts of their study until a fee (perhaps a smaller fee if only for transcripts) to avoid students learning through you, but taking their transcripts elsewhere for accreditation.

Basically, it is the freeware model with a bit of lock-in marketing. The flexibility it enables a learner means that people can opt in to study (full or part time) without committing to up front fees, or inflexible time tables and course durations. Up front fee paying students stand to benefit from wider participation with others – think youtube or wikipedia scale… and everyone understands that it is the accreditation that the fees pay for, not the learning. The learning is enhanced by wider participation (depending on how well it is managed) so ‘the more the merrier’