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Accrediting e-learning


Jim Flood, Director of Learning at COROUS looks at the realities of an e-learning credit transfer system.

One day, will e-learning have an option for the learner to pick up accredited learning points, much in the manner in which we pick up points on loyalty cards? Now the idea that bite size chunks of E-learning can build up to an academic qualification is a possibility but we need to examine both the practicalities and desirability of such a scheme.

The only general academic currency that currently exists is Credit and Accumulation Transfer (CATs) points which only have exchange value within the UK, and there is no fixed exchange rate. Firstly let’s consider what the basic rate of educational exchange is: a three-year batchelor degree with an honours classification is equal to 360 CATs points and therefore one year of full-time study equals 120 CATs points.

This is all very well but what does this mean in terms of hours studied? Well, one year of full-time study is calculated to be 1,200 hours – which given three ten-week terms per year is equal to 40 hours per week. Those of you who have graduated recently or who are familiar with the behaviour of undergraduates, might well be surprised, not to say astounded by this figure. However it does include self-study as well as lectures, practical work, seminars and writing assignments!

So the important point for E-learning is that a twenty-minute chunk might be worth as much as 0.033 CATs points, and 3,600 of them would be required to complete a degree programme! However if a twenty-minute chunk was followed up with learning activities, further reading, discussion and work on an assignment, it could easily account for six hours of study time and have a total value of 0.2 CATs points. It might be that learners wishing to accumulate CATs points will have a lower target such as a certificate or diploma. There is no defined value for a certificate but an academic diploma is usually rated at 120 CATs points.

All of the information above is based on general credit ratings that can be used either as a guide to the value of a course of study, or to use it for credit exemption for entry to courses offered by UK universities. Many universities will offer specific accreditation for an approved course that is directly linked to one of their full or part-time programmes – and some very good deals can be negotiated.

The process for accrediting any type of course is based upon three following criteria:

- they are at UK higher education level in terms of learning outcomes and assessment;

- they are formally assessed by appropriately qualified people;

- appropriate quality assurance procedures are observed, including external (independent) assessment.

Although this is essentially an academic framework, there is increasing flexibility in terms of basing assignments on workplace-based activities and evidence-based assessment rather than essays, tests and examinations. So it does mean that academic credit can be gained in the workplace by putting theory into practice and making improvements to organisational goals.

However, is an academic framework based on CATs points appropriate for continuing professional development? There is evidence of that learners are motivated by the possibility of gaining academic recognition but the main motivating factor is a gain in self-esteem. Gaining self-esteem by this route is a long-term process. Gaining self-esteem through improved skills and working practices, and feeling more in contact with organisational goals will, for many learners, provide a more achievable aim. Such a route is not incompatible with the award of CATs points but it might be more appropriate for ‘bite sized chunks’ of learning to provide a catalyst that leads to conventional academic programmes.

The hope of many of us is that conventional academic programmes will become much more accessible and less conventional. Many large organistions are now partnering with universities to accredit work-based training programmes which, combined with part-time study, provides a highly relevant degree courses that enable employees both to earn and learn. As conventional routes through full-time higher education become more expensive, aspiring graduates might well choose to study for a degree by joining an organisation that will give them a salary and the support to gain a degree.


Accreditation should not be confused with validation. Accreditation is the process by which a university or college awards credit value to a course offered by another organisation. Validation is the process by which a university or college grants the right of an organisation to make academic awards (such as a degree or diploma) on its behalf.

For information on credit transfer in the UK visit:

For information on validation visit:

For information on proposed developments in international credit transfer visit:


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