Is learning is undergoing a transformation? From this article in the NY Times on the profusion of lectures available online, its implications on learning, and how that's changing the way students learn; to 21st Century Learning proponents, who claim that learning in this century is like no other, that students are actually different, and that institutions need to evolve their curriculum to match, you might think so.
I don't think the turn of a calendar's page changes the way the brain works, but what (if anything) is really different about education in this century?
It's not enough to say we have new technology today vs. yesterday, because yesterday they had new technology vs. the day before. It's not enough to say that we expect more from our students today than ever before (ibid).
What about this - could this be the century in which the business model of education changes? Is this the point where accreditation as we know it goes away? This isn't new in the history of learning, but it's something that hasn't happened in perhaps the last 150 years.
The mainstream public education system on this planet is authoritarian, discriminatory, built to make life easier for adults and regulators, and seemingly not even designed to make children great. The rules in most schools are all about what you CAN'T do. Oppression doesn't seem to be a good way to engage students and improve learning outcomes - does it?
How does the system become so authoritarian? Simple - they own the ticket to employment. I wrote recently about the tertiary education is becoming commoditized; I think things are getting even worse now. The most tangible benefit of staying in school and graduating is the piece of paper you get that says you attended, graduated, and are now employment-worthy.
If you have something hammer-like (the ticket), then it is easy to be lazy and use that hammer to assert power vs. truly engaging students - think of most country's border guards; they should be tourism advocates, but instead let their power get in the way. This is not universal, but it is pervasive.
Change in this case won't come from within. These days, more and more employers look beyond the accreditation to the person to assess whether they'd be a good hire. Ask any recruiter, hiring manager, employment consultant or counselor and they will confirm that where you went to school only helps if it's one of the top ten (or where the hiring manager went); otherwise it's more about the rest of you - who you are, what you've done, and how you did it that counts - take a look at your own resume - is education at the top or near the bottom?
Admittedly, most employers (today) won't let you in the door without the proper accreditation - that's still the first filter. But I believe this is changing. The number of "accreditation-free" people that get hired is growing rapidly, and the approach these hiring managers take and the quality of these hires will be the biggest determinant of the "value" of a formal education.
As these "alternate" candidates prove their worth in the market (likely at lower starting salaries as well), I think there will be a groundswell at both ends - hiring managers/recruiters becoming more open-minded, and students becoming more savvy.
Students are already skeptical about school; when the approach that these hiring managers use to select candidates becomes better known, it could begin to shape students' process for building a resume, the way they demonstrate knowledge, ability and experience, and the criticality of a diploma.
Imagine if you could describe your job-worthiness not in terms of a certificate, but as say a balanced scorecard, or as Seth put it, as your own quilt. It would not only be a huge help to hiring managers, but also allow much more of the candidate's broader value to be demonstrated.
Just as Open Education Resources (OER) is altering the nature of curriculum and teaching materials, I think we're about 10 years away from an Open Accreditation Service that enables students to score or quilt all of their achievements across the board.
The next revolution in learning then, is the outmoding of the existing business model. And as with the music, video, and print/TV advertising industries, education will try and hold on to the past, but at some point face reality, and focus on earning the opportunity to teach your child. I can't wait.