Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Monopoly of Higher Education...

His awesomeness, Brian Lamb, has posted a thought provoking piece over on his blog. In it he says:

"I staked out something of a confrontational stance... that higher education is still conducting its business as if information is scarce when we now live in an era of unprecedented information abundance."

This is an interesting point. We live in an age where information is not only plentiful, but it's easily searcheable and accessible. It's not a question of whether or not the information is out there. You can rest assured that it is in fact out there, you just have to find it. And more and more finding it is a relatively simple matter.

So, is higher education in danger? People go to a university to obtain an education, right? To get understanding? To read and learn about things. But now that information, education, and understanding can be found on the internet. They are in direct competition with Google, are they not?

I have a dirty little secret. I do web design for a living, and I've never had a single course on web design. I taught myself everything I know from the web. I didn't need the higher education system.

Universities should be shaking in their boots, right?

Wrong. Because universities still have a monopoly. One that shows no signs of cracking. That monopoly surrounds certification. I might know everything there is about programming, history, teaching, whatever, but employers aren't interested in that. They want to see my diploma. A diploma is such a beautifully quantifiable thing. So simple.

On his blog, Brian mentions that a person asked him, "...if we live in an era of information abundance, why is the primary drive around OERs (and OCWs for that matter) the publication of more content? And what other activities around the open education movement might be an effective use of our energies? What other needs have to be met?"

I would give a hearty push for a solution to the certification problem. It's a much stickier problem and has yet to really be discussed by the openness community (at least from my perspective, which is probably a perspective from the 'outside'. But I would argue that this challenge is a much more important one, and definitely a game altering one. OCW is great, and a lot of schools have added a lot of useful content to the world. But the world is filling up with content. If we want to see a real difference, let's make it possible for people not to just find content (they can already do that with Google), but let's make it possible for them to demonstrate competency. I feel that would make a distinct difference in a lot of people's lives.


Amber Lynn Smith said...

Now you've done it! You've given away your dirty little secret, and now you must create my web page for me! *evil laugh*

Deeanna said...


Dal Jeanis said...

Your employees want to see your diploma? I hope you meant prospective employers.

Now, in tech fields, there are certifications galore that are not controlled by universities. I believe that, over time, these neutral-party certifications may accumulate for other subjects until some kind of "tipping point", when the universities suddenly find they are irrelevant.

A few will anticipate and reposition themselves, teacher unions will lobby the government for protection, but the bottom line is that the knowledge and the abilities, not the diploma, will become the controlling factor.

And hopefully, the stupider aspects of higher education will then fall by the wayside. Such as teacher education programs that ignore the science regarding teaching preschoolers, because the scientific results don't match what they want them to be.