Art of e-learning

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:

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 🙂