A Prediction for Higher Education

Less than 300 years ago, an institution existed throughout western Europe known as the guild. The guild was the center of commerce in the same way that the universities were the center of thought. In contrast to the guild where individuals learned to master trades through a complex system of apprenticeship, universities more closely resembled the monastic communities of the church where individuals dedicated their lives to the cultivation of their hearts and minds. These were the centers of literacy, art, and the less-practical subjects of the humanities (the domain of the elite).
When technology like the printing press made information widely available, literacy became a valuable commodity and teachers came from the intellectual centers to provide general schooling for the public. The wider accessibility of information did not replace the professor but changed his role into one of a guide for those wishing to encounter the information for themselves. They began to teach the public to read, write, and interact in a more complex world than had ever existed. The only requirement for a respectable commercial job at this point was probably the ability to read, spell, and add.
Meanwhile, craftsmen received their training through apprenticeship and their credentials through the guild. The title of “master” was conferred upon the one who was recognized within the guild as an expert in the trade. Sound familiar? Churchmen received their training through the church. Farmers learned the trade from their family. Those who attended university did so because they had the luxury of time and money to develop their network, their understanding of abstract concepts that were not useful on the farm, and perhaps even indulge their curiosity in the sciences. In some cases higher education was a necessity as they needed to understand principles of law and government that they would use in leadership positions within the community.
As time passed, this exclusive education in the liberal arts became more widely available and in countries like the United States, basic literacy itself was no longer a competitive advantage. One needed a high school degree in order to demonstrate greater potential for participating in more complex jobs. The businesses were too small to train the one accountant they needed and so economies of scale led to mass training for accountants. Those who did not participate in this training could no longer get a job as a book-keeper. And so a trend began in which the well-paying jobs required years of study to prepare for participation. Those who learned the information on their own lacked the credentials of the college and were not always recognized as capable. The university degree thus became the key to both the information and the certification needed for a respectable job. 
It had effectively replaced the guild, the church, and the community as the primary source of introducing information and credentialing individuals. But then the industrial age came to an end with the advent of the information age. As industry became automated, the value of the homogenous individual disappeared and the specialist (craftsman) began to reappear. The guild came back with a vengeance under the guise of internships and technical college where students received training and certification for their pursuit of a trade. But more importantly, the internet was born as a new way of producing and sharing information through digital technology.
Like the printing press, it opened up a whole new world of information and complexity to individuals. And just like the role of the professor changed then, it will have to change again. The internet has replaced the university as the repository and dispensary of information. The professor is no longer the expert in the subject when compared with the collected knowledge of the world. The value of the campus as a place of learning and innovation has fallen relative to the amazing laboratories and experimental centers run by private companies. An internship with a well-respected company is more valuable for job prospecting than a degree at this point. And those who do get a job participate in ongoing corporate training to master their company’s particular knowledge base. As the guild (read corporations) has begun to resume its credentialing and training power, it is leaving the university in a rather uncomfortable position of irrelevance.
I believe this is a good thing as the next 20 years will see the university begin to re-assume its position as the thought center of society.
Imagine children are trained in literacy by artificial intelligence designed by education specialists and technology gurus who learned their trades from dedicated schools on the subject and interact with a worldwide network of related individuals developing a greater depth of information about the field. The learning experience for the children is designed particularly for them from a dizzying database of information and can produce a high school or college level of subject mastery by the time the child has barely reached 13 years of age. Then they will begin to specialize in some particular field and join the worldwide conversation mediated by technology around a particular subject or career field. Some have speculated that at this point the institutions of the church of government, and of education will all be subsumed by the corporation, but I believe that if they adapt, these institutions will find their roles enhanced and expanded by the developments in technology that come from these corporations.
For most people, the university will no longer be a necessary part of a life that is filled with learning through exploration and interaction through digital and real world spaces. History will be experienced live through virtual worlds and ancient places can be explored with accompanying meta-information and guidance that is currently locked away in vaults and virtual databases waiting to expose its secrets to the world. Math will be visual and interactive. Virtual skyscrapers will rise and fall on the mastery of physical properties demonstrated by students in a safe and collaborative environment for exploration. In the rush of available information, much of humanity will be at a loss for how to transform it into something useful.
This is where the university will find its identity by returning to its quiet and noble roots of philosophy, literature, government, poetry, and art which will give meaning and value to the mad process of learning undertaken by the rest of the world. Perhaps for some, university will be a lifelong dedication, for others it will be a detour on the way to more information, and some might find a week at the university to be a relaxing vacation in a quiet and artistic setting removed from the rush of learning. But in order to return to its foundations and maintain its relevance in the next decades, the university must ask an important question: what is education? 

For if education is simply the mastery of one’s subject, the university will be replaced by a digital crowd-sourced environment for discovering and interacting with information. If, on the other hand, learning is the mastery of oneself and subjects cannot be separated from the individuals who engage with them, the university will play a prominent role in the success of individuals using the available technology in a way that is profitable. In this second scenario, the university will become the center for the development of the individual as a holistic being who not only thinks and feels, but breathes and moves and loves and creates and will never be confined to a mere cog in the digital machinery of the information age!

Read more at www.humancenteredlearning.com

Social Media for Learning

This week of learning through social media created a sharp contrast between the utility of the LMS (Learning Management System) used by my school and the free platform we enjoyed this week. If it were not for the convenience of grading tools, organizing assignments, and maintaining consistency of student experience, I would choose to learn via social media just about every time.

Social media is designed to be social. Information gets lost so quickly in the discussion boards on Canvas and Blackboard. The social media platform that we used (Schoology.com) brought forward the posts that I needed to see into a convenient newsfeed and was simple to navigate. It was also much easier to follow the threaded posts and upvote those things that I thought were important or interesting.

Notifications showed up whenever there was something new I needed to take care of and it was easy to interact with others in the predefined spaces. There was no boundary separating the information from the conversation. To me this seemed to create a more integrated learning experience.

In addition to these basic functions, it was simple to navigate to resources, easy to edit my profile, and there were other additional functions like blogging that were available if needed.

Despite all of this, I still feel like it will take some time for social media to overtake the entrenched learning management systems as the dominant platform for online learning. The reason for this is outlined in one of the thoughts we discussed this week:

It seems to me that there is a divide between learning and education. From our other discussion thread, it looks like many of us use social networks for learning on a personal level. When it comes to a more formalized learning experience, however, there are so many things to quantify that the simple interactions allowed by social networking tools are not sufficient for the classroom. Perhaps if learning facilitators could let go of the idea that every learner must go through the same experience and be measured by the same benchmark standards, then social networking tools could really be leveraged in a formal group learning setting. Until this changes, I think LMS will continue to dominate the distance learning scene.

Using Wikis in Education

As part of my class on learning and technology, I had the objective of creating a learning experience for my classmates that introduced them to wikis and blogs. With this wiki project, my partner and I wanted to give students the chance to experience building a wiki. If someone decides to use a wiki in their teaching field, we thought it would be important for them to understand what their students will go through.  After working together building the wiki, we can understand the process our students go through in using wikis for their learning.

After choosing a popular wiki platform, the challenge was how to design a week of learning that would be both accessible, but also valuable. We also wanted the project to have residual value to encourage a deeper level of participation. This reflection demonstrates the difficulties and hurdles we encountered in making this a successful project and includes some suggestions for future projects.

Looking back on the learning experience, I think it is possible that we made the project a little bit too complicated for the week-long time frame. Additionally, we were not necessarily prepared for the psychological hurdles that individuals would have to overcome to participate.

There are plenty of details on how to build a wiki, but very few on the thought process behind it. Participants in developing the wiki project incorporated information on how to create a successful wiki-building culture. However, this was an aspect that first escaped our notice. This is one benefit of the wiki: that it can expand organically in ways outside the scope of the initial authors.

Another challenge turned out to be that individuals have a very difficult time relying on their own judgement to delete the work of someone else and replace it with something better. It is difficult to create  a strong enough objective to empower individuals to do this.

Another challenge of using a wiki is that it forces every individual to take ownership of leading the project. There is no one individual who has more editing and creative power than anyone else. This may indicate that before a wiki can be successful individual class members need to be comfortable with their ability to work together toward a common goal.

Because of this, our class easily learned how to navigate the new platform for discussion, but did not have the necessary cultural background or thought process to make the most of the wiki functions. Yet despite this hurdle, everyone became familiar with the challenges and benefits of using a wiki for teaching.

To view the wiki project, please click here.