German universities prepare for recognition of MOOC-based learning

Continuing with the German theme from my last post… Last week I was honoured to be invited to speak at a workshop in Berlin held by Kiron Open Higher Education for staff from their German partner universities, on the topic of recognition of prior learning through massive open online courses. My slides from the event are here.

Kiron was set up by Vincent Zimmer and Markus Kressler in mid-2014, initially as a Kickstarter start-up, and is now an established non-government organisation, aiming to support refugees to enter the higher education system. With a current student body of over 2,300, the organisation has developed a model in which learners spend two years studying MOOCs, with guidance and support from academic mentors, counsellors and friendly “buddies”, whilst also learning German. Upon successful completion of this phase, the learners based in Germany – approximately 50% of the total “cohort” – will apply to a German university for recognition of their learning equivalent to the first year of a degree programme of their choice (within certain limits – more on that below), enabling them to be accepted into second year. About 40 of us gathered at the stylish BMW Foundation office in Berlin (an indication of corporate philanthropic support for the initiative) to discuss scenarios for this future.

Kiron has already made significant progress towards its goal in terms of developing an educational model that is acceptable to its partner institutions. The curriculum is divided into five subject streams, called “study tracks”, and for each of these subjects a mapping exercise has been done to identify (a) the most common intended learning outcomes in German university curricula, and (b) the MOOCs whose outcomes map most readily onto the local curricula. They have further created a number of so-called “MOOKlets” – booklets which provide information about the selected MOOCs, to help both learners and institutions make decisions about which courses to study/ recognise. I was delighted to hear from Hannes Niedermeier, Kiron’s head of curriculum, that this idea had been inspired by the concept of the “traffic light” model in the OpenCred report that I co-authored for the EU’s Joint Research Centre. (Special acknowledgement is due here to Anne Tannhäuser, the creative power behind this model!)

What struck me most about the gathering was the quiet, determined commitment of the group to the shared vision of integrating refugees into the formal higher education system. Every potential obstacle was treated as a problem to be solved, through a combination of lateral thinking and methodical planning. Amongst the solutions we discussed were the following:

  • Recognition by portfolio – this is often a very labour-intensive process, both for applicants and assessors, but in the Kiron case the concept has been streamlined to simply comprise all the MOOC credentials (certificates or badges) obtained by the learner, along with a short piece of reflective writing on their experiences in acquiring each credential.
  • The use of online proctoring – there was some agreement that this could be as reliable as (if not more reliable than) face-to-face proctoring, and some of Kiron’s partners (e.g. OpenHPI) have already successfully integrated this into their routine delivery of courses.
  • The use of “challenge exams” – one institution, FH Lübeck, had invited a group of 14 Kiron learners who had completed MOOCs to take exams in their chosen subjects, to ascertain whether they had actually achieved the learning outcomes that were required for entry into Year 2 of the respective programmes. The exams were identical to the ones taken by the institution’s own students after a year of study. This “proof of concept” pilot confirmed that most of the refugees in the group had achieved the necessary learning outcomes and could therefore have their learning recognised. In the case of one subject where the learners performed less well, it was noted that the MOOC outcomes did not map very closely onto the institutional programme outcomes, implying that further work needs to be done in terms of either selecting suitable MOOCs, or supporting learners to fill the “gaps” identified between MOOC courses and particular university programmes. (For a flavour of some of the work that FH Luebeck is doing with refugees, see

The workshop day ended on a high note with each person saying what they had got out of it. From everyone’s closing remarks, it was clear that the opportunity to network with others in the Kiron family and address common problems together had been valuable. I will be watching this space closely to see what models are developed at Kiron for the recognition of open learning, and how these might be transferable to other contexts. In the meantime, I will continue my support for Kiron through the Buddy programme and I would encourage any readers who are interested in partnering with a refugee learner to get involved. And no, you don’t need to be a German speaker 🙂

About Gabi Witthaus

Open educator. Blogger at Art of E-learning. Learning design consultant at University of Birmingham. PhD student in HE Research, Evaluation and Enhancement, Lancaster University. Previously Research Associate at University of Leicester (Beyond Distance Research Alliance and Institute of Learning Innovation); Learning and Teaching Facilitator at Loughborough University; Distance Learning Manager at Bradford University School of Management. Qualifications: Masters in Training and Development (USQ, Australia); Masters in English Education (Wits University, South Africa), PGC in Mediation (Robert Gordon, Scotland), BA Hons in Applied Linguistics (Wits University, South Africa).
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1 Response to German universities prepare for recognition of MOOC-based learning

  1. Pingback: German universities prepare for recognition of MOOC-based learning - e-Learning Feeds

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