Curriculum design for open education/Introduction: Key concepts and big ideas/Gaining credit for learning

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Gaining credit for learning

Laden hand symbolising giving credit

Across open education there exists a range of course models providing both formal and informal learning opportunities for participants on courses. These include for-credit options for learners enrolled in institutions, with parallel non-credit offering available as open courses. Many Open University OpenLearn units operate in line with this model. In the recent proliferation of MOOCs (massive open online courses), course providers have favoured self-assessment tools to cope with large participant numbers, thereby limiting the option to gain credit for learning. Other approaches, such as this micro course, are based on the idea of ‘micro credentials’, or learning that could be recognised as contributing to the achievement of learning outcomes in larger, for-credit courses.

Institutions committed to open education, such as those making up the OER Universitas (OERu), are working on policies and agreements to support learners gaining, and transferring credit across courses and institutions. This involves ‘unbundling’ higher education services so that rather than paying for tuition, learners can study without cost, but elect to pay a fee to ‘challenge-for-credit’. This involves learners seeking assessment and accreditation for learning that could be undertaken via a range of institutions and open courses.

This distinctive feature of open education places great importance on the availability of prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) services. Currently, prior learning is being recognised through portfolios, exams, assignments, interviews and other assessment approaches (Conrad, Mackintosh, McGreal, Murphy & Witthaus, 2013[1]). The PLAR service at Thompson Rivers University in Canada serves as a good example, with its different credit options for learners.


  1. Conrad, D., Mackintosh, W., McGreal, R., Murphy, A. & Witthaus, G. (2013). Report on the assessment and accreditation of learners using open education resources (OER). Report on the assessment and accreditation of learners using Open Education Resources (OER). Retrieved June 2, 2014, from