Yeah, Yeah, I Know. End of the University.

So the question I’m thinking about some these days is will I be out of a job in 10 years when all learning is online and all students need is a content expert who can throw together their content into learning modules that are so easy to use that they just think intently at their computers and POP the SakaMoodle or Blackboard 27 or whatever LMS just pops up the content, auto-generates multi-level questions, and the students can assess themselves? At which point the only people making money are the people printing the certificates. And maybe I’ll have wished I finished the PhD and was considered a content expert.

I don’t know.

Were people saying this 10 years ago? Or 20 years ago? The biggest difference seems to be, and this was pretty well articulated in DIY U, the biggest difference seems to be that tuition is higher. If the playing field were level, if tuition remained the same and online courses got easier to produce because the tech was cheaper and easier and easier to access because bandwidth was more available, we’d still see a growth in online learning because of the convenience. From lots of people. Full-time or part-time employees, people who don’t like 4:30 or 7:30 classes, etc. But a huge factor seems to be the tuition hikes, which appear to be due to states investing less in higher ed. And administrative bloat, as some would argue. Well, the tuition hike will eventually push people out of certain schools. Community colleges are booming.

I actually do believe in the liberal arts education. I think there’s something unique about people’s brains when they’ve had to at least in passing, and usually it’s not just in passing, think through hard ideas and articulate arguments. When they’ve had to work hard and have had a chance to reflect on ideas. When they’ve been able to spend time being self-absorbed, building up ideas and not contributing to society.

I also believe in the positive effects of jobs on people and communities. I think people who work can feel better about themselves and if they have families can take care of them. I think service is enobling.

I’m beginnign to lean towards the idea of agreeing on results and leaving the process up to ingenuity. I think there’s something to be said for process. I also think there’s something to be said for people for whom the process won’t work or isn’t available. If the result is having qualified people for the workplace, then the workplaces should get together and make some tests of qualifications they’d like and then make those tests cheap or free and let people take them. Then if people want to take 4 years of college to take them, they can. If they want to do an amalgam of different things to take them, they can. If they want to do 4 years of work in a different job and nights spent studying using online courses, a community or study group, or books from the library, they can.

But they’d have to be some kick-butt tests. No kidding around. Part of the way higher ed now gets away with the current system is the difficulty in producing such a test: reliable, valid, tests what employers want tested. Could it screen for maturity, which may or may not be present after 4 years in college but is more likely? Could it screen for the people skills and lack of rough edges that working with people in groups at least once a semester might develop? The solution currently is a patchwork of different tests, projects, assignments, papers, quizzes, and presentations that in some colleges form a tightly structured curriculum aimed at specific outcomes and in others try to ensure that no MAJOR holes are apparent. Ideally projects form a kind of growth pattern over time that show development, progress, and potential of the individual. They are pretty powerful. Ideally those projects are planned out by the college. They sometimes aren’t and are picked up on the side or along the way. In these cases they are not DUE to the education process, they are IN SPITE of it.

BAck to the tests: to be cheap the tests would have to be multiple choice or subsidized by the government for grading, but the more obvious choice would be that the tests just get really expensive because they can justify it and then book publishers get in on it too and try to help develop them. And they’d still be cheaper than college. But that would kill the point, wouldn’t it – the point is to have wider access to the means of proving value to employers on the one hand and genuinely learning for learning’s sake on the other.

I think, though, that something is going to give. It will be interesting to see what.

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