ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The University of Maryland University College announced Wednesday it will be the first in the state’s university system to create a path for students to earn academic credit for learning through “massive open online courses.”

The university is one of the nation’s largest public providers of online higher education with an enrollment of about 93,000 students.

It has decided to award credit for demonstrated learning from six massive online courses offered by Coursera and Udacity. The classes cover math and science, such as introduction to physics, pre-calculus, calculus and introduction to computer science. Students will have to demonstrate their competency of material through standardized exams taken in a test center.

“To us, a MOOC is just one more way that a student might learn something at the college level that we should help them get credit for if they can demonstrate that they have that knowledge,” said Marie Cini, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs for UMUC.

MOOCs are online courses that are designed to include tens of thousands of students. They started becoming popular more than a year ago to allow more students to sample elite college courses. Public higher education systems around the country have been incorporating them into their systems. But some experts say MOOCs can’t replace traditional classroom learning and face-to-face interaction.

Cini noted that MOOCs are still largely in their infancy and will become more sophisticated in the future. She also said it’s unclear how many students will participate.

“Right now it looks as though the majority of students who are in MOOCs already have an undergraduate degree, so unless that changes I don’t think there will be a huge number of students taking this, but higher ed changes so quickly the numbers could increase for sure,” Cini said.

UMUC has catered largely to adults who come to the school with previous college-level learning, whether from prior college course work or job training received in the military. The online classes offered by UMUC are very different from MOOCs, because they are much smaller. For example, undergraduate courses are generally no larger than 32 students, and graduate courses top off at about 25. That enables an instructor to have considerable interaction with the students, Cini said.

Cini also underscored that students seeking credit after taking a MOOC will have to demonstrate their knowledge in an exam.

“I wouldn’t want this to be misconstrued as anybody who takes a MOOC will get college credit from us, because if they can’t demonstrate the knowledge we’re not going to just automatically give them credit because they can show us a certificate that they sat through a MOOC,” Cini said.

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