Want to take — or teach — a class this summer? You can now do both through Oplerno, a Burlington-based start-up that aims to offer an online alternative to traditional colleges.
Earlier this month, the Vermont State Board of Education approved Oplerno’s request to award college credit for its courses. The Board’s seal of approval also means that credits earned at Oplerno may be transferred to other institutions of higher learning, at the discretion of those institutions. In other words, Oplerno is now a fully-fledged, for-profit college.
Seven Days profiled the venture in September, 2013.
Oplerno’s name is a condensation of its stated mission — open learning organization — and was chosen precisely for its meaninglessness acrosss multiple languages… At root, Oplerno is an online learning platform that enables faculty members to teach courses asynchronously with up to 25 students. The interface will accommodate everything we have come to expect from the online experience — text, live chat, audio, video, filesharing — and will be accessible via web browser and smartphone app.
Founder and CEO Rob Skiff says the digital learning platform will begin offering classes in May. So far, the course list includes the Psychology of Happiness, Narrative Report Writing for Security and Police Personnel and Using Technology to Subvert Hierarchy in the Classroom. Tuition for each of those classes is $500, of which the instructor will get 80 to 90 percent.
Skiff differentiates Oplerno’s model from that of the “MOOCs” (Massive Open Online Courses) that have recently gained educational currency. He writes, in an email interview, “We are not a MOOC, but actually harken back to an age when faculty were paid for their ability to teach and students were able to access a high-quality education without going deeply into debt.”
Skiff writes, “The Agency of Education was very helpful in the [approval] process, but also critical like they should be. Their standards are excellent and tough. Their oversight helps ensure that new institutions are not fly by night operations.” Oplerno is not Skiff’s first venture into alternative educational models. He, his wife and his father founded the Vermont Commons college preparatory school in South Burlington in 1995.
What’s the next step for Oplerno? Skiff writes, “In the next several weeks we will be reaching out to governing bodies in the European Union and a few countries in South America to start our approval and accreditation process there.” While it still has hurdles to surmount, Oplerno, in its global focus, may well prove to be a test case for the viability of new kinds of online education.
Skiff told the Chronicle of Higher Education that he’s already got 80 faculty members lined up, and hopes to offer up to 100 courses by the end of 2014.