Deakin University is pushing into international markets with a masters degree program that gives substantial credit for experience and skills learned on the job. Launched two years ago, the program now encompasses four master’s degrees of professional practice: information technology, digital learning, financial planning, and leadership.
Costing less than $20,000, these four master’s degrees consist of three taught units and ten micro-credentials, each of which can be awarded for past experience and learned skills. These master’s degrees can then be earned in a year, compared with more typical master’s degrees, which consist of 12 taught units, and might cost $40,000 and take two or three years.
Simon Hann, CEO of DeakinCo, the commercial education arm of Deakin University, said the international student market was likely to prove extremely important with this new model of education and these new masters degrees were integral to that.
Deakin had already begun work on a government-funded project to look at running a pilot into India, he said, and initial discussions were underway with partners in the UK.
These new models of education are based on research into the way technology is expected to change education practices around the world, with flexible on-line learning becoming extremely popular, and shorter “stackable” courses and mini-credentials becoming increasingly recognised and sought after by students.
“Typically these micro-credentials measure employability skills, so we were looking at something for people who were working”, Mr Hann said. “Particularly where they’d developed fairly considerable experience and skills and capabilities through what they did on the job”.
These smaller qualifications, and the faster and less expensive route to a master’s degree, were likely to appeal to employees who wouldn’t otherwise undertake a traditional masters degree because of the time and cost required, Mr Hann added.
The plan was to identify the micro-credentials that were important to employers, such as those capabilities that some call “soft” skills, such as problem solving, communication, critical thinking, teamwork, digital literacy, and emotional judgement, he said. “These are all things that have been identified as needed in the future of work; the core skills that people need to develop for the jobs of the future”.
Potential students who have learned these skills and capabilities on the job and can prove that to Deakin, with evidence and assessment, would be awarded the micro-credential, which could then be accredited to a masters degree.
The assessment process for the credentials was necessarily rigorous, he added, to ensure continued credibility. Students upload evidence of their skills and capabilities, and then they need to complete a video interview where they’re tested on that evidence.
Each of the micro-credentials can also stand alone as a qualification, Mr Hann said. DeakinCo sells them to corporations as stand-alone products, and worked with Deakin University to create the Masters of Professional Practice degrees, which include a large element of the micro-credentials.
“Certainly the discussions we have with employers around measurement of employability skills and what that provides has been really encouraging,” he said. “We’ve had corporate uptake from companies like Westpac, Ernst and Young, the Australian Tax Office and BUPA”.
Dr Nick Patterson, course director for the Master of Professional Practice (Information Technology), said the on-line master’s course provided high quality learning for students, and it was particularly useful for those living outside Melbourne.
“We’ve taken this already innovative masters’ degree, which can be accelerated quite quickly, and added the bonus of the micro-credentials”, he said. “It’s on an innovative platform, which is on-line based essentially, and allows you to study at your own pace, in a really nice, premium, cloud-learning platform”.
This particular Master of Professional Practice (Information Technology) degree consists of almost a magazine-style format, with a number of fairly short articles (say 600 words), videos, and discussions.
“So it’s all fairly quick for those people who are in this 21st century learning lifestyle”, Dr Patterson, said, “people who want to study on the bus, the tram or the plane, and they just want to do short snippets at a time usually, they don’t want to study for hours and hours at a time”.
The final “capstone” element of the degree requires students to submit a project that demonstrates they have a mastery of information technology. Dr Patterson said the project should contribute to the understanding of information technology and, as such, it could be a publication in a journal or a presentation at a conference, or the student’s discovery of information technology gap in his or her workplace and the resulting work to fill that gap.
For traditionalists who regret the loss of the age-old system of six or so eager young minds drinking cups of tea and discussing elevated ideas in a tutor’s office, while being gently guided by their friendly academic, Dr Patterson points out that the cross-fertilisation of ideas and intense discussion will not be lost with these new degrees.
On-line discussions and workshops can be joined by students around the world, with a little juggling of time zone requirements. “That’s where this platform really shines,” Dr Patterson said.
“It’s not just watching videos and reading articles, you’re chatting with your peers, other learners on the course, and it really prompts students to discuss various ideas. The teacher jumps in and helps push it in different directions and we have on-line workshops that we have each week, with live sessions with the teacher”.
Gil Costa has just finished her first unit of a Master of Professional Practice (Leadership) degree. While she is now enjoying the challenge, the 52-year-old hospitality executive from Geelong began her study “almost by default”.
Employing youngsters who work in her hospitality business, she knows many of her staff – particularly the supervisors and managers – have solid business and management understanding and experience. Yet although her company provides training, these employees have no university qualifications that recognise their skills.
So Ms Costa decided to ensure they had the opportunity to receive formal university recognition for their skills and expertise. After consultation with Deakin University, a pathway was established for study. The employees’ tuition fees were subsidised by Ms Costa’s firm, and at the last minute Ms Costa decided to join in.
“I’m not an academic person, so I thought I’d understand what I’m suggesting what these guys put their hand up for,” she said. “Now I’m being credentialled for the last 35 years I’ve spent in business. The upshot of that is that I’m doing some online study. And there’s a lot of work in credentialling, you so have to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about”.
“I find that this structured learning really consolidates your on-the-ground experience,” she added. “When you do the theory behind some of this stuff, you understand it a lot more”.
One of her employees has dropped out, perhaps through lack of confidence, but another is still plugging along. Ms Costa said the flexibility of on-line learning was crucial for her: without it she wouldn’t be able to devote the required time to having her skills recognised, nor to the more formal learning elements of the degree.
“There’s certainly been learning, and there’s been some challenges,” Ms Costa said. “But most of that is me fitting it in, and making sure I keep on top of it. When I’m sitting in front of the computer and doing it, I’m for the most part enjoying it”.