in Digital Web

College a la carte?

I'm a Master of Education Technology (well may...
Image by catspyjamasnz via Flickr

I was reading Foreign Policy earlier today and ran across an article entitled “Personalized Education” as part of their “next big things” feature.

Throughout most of history, only the wealthy have been able to afford an education geared to the individual learner. For the rest of us, education has remained a mass affair, with standard curricula, pedagogy, and assessments.

The financial crisis will likely change this state of affairs. With the global quest for long-term competitiveness assuming new urgency, education is on everyone’s front burner. Societies are looking for ways to make quantum leaps in the speed and efficiency of learning. So long as we insist on teaching all students the same subjects in the same way, progress will be incremental. But now for the first time it is possible to individualize education—to teach each person what he or she needs and wants to know in ways that are most comfortable and most efficient, producing a qualitative spurt in educational effectiveness.

In fact, we already have the technology to do so. Well-programmed computers—whether in the form of personal computers or hand-held devices—are becoming the vehicles of choice. They will offer many ways to master materials. Students (or their teachers, parents, or coaches) will choose the optimal ways of presenting the materials. Appropriate tools for assessment will be implemented. And best of all, computers are infinitely patient and flexible. If a promising approach does not work the first time, it can be repeated, and if it continues to fail, other options will be readily available.

Just how will this happen? Where, when, and by whom?

I don’t really have any doubts this could happen, as the technology already exist. The only thing really stopping it is accreditation. But would a WikiDegree really be about getting a job? Or is it about demonstrating a level of knowledge you’ve acquired through self-study? How would such a virtual institution operate? Could it be a school comprised of faculty from other places? Adjuncts who are looking to prove their worth on a larger scale?

Would it even give bachelor’s degrees at all? How about a diploma?
I could see all sorts of scenarios where this could work. Whether it’s professors offering courses on their own, around the world attracted talented and motivated students who want to learn from them — as they use it to burnish their personal brands in the post Web 2.0 world — and people who have a lot of acquired knowledge and use such a platform to share it with others.

I think the real question for something like this, is whether credentials would cease to be important. Whether Notre Dame de Open Source would be the sort of place that would “hire” faculty who didn’t have even a bachelor’s degree, but years of “field experience.” I think that’d be a credibility problem and yet, Wikipedia hums along fine without peer review in the traditional sense.

So will McUniversity be online soon and change the way we view the distribution of education? Or will the university stay pretty much intact as society evolves around the new tools that will continue to change the way we communicate and interact with each other?