Competency-based certification. You heard it here first.
In the beginning we had a library; just a collection of books gathered by some rich king. Then the university came along and added a social component to the library. The university secured a monopoly on a thing called a degree. It's the currency we use to get jobs and show how smart we are.
The problem lies in the fact that the internet is now the largest repository of knowledge, and there are many social components to the internet. You can learn all sorts of useful skills and knowledge from folks all over the world. But how do you show you know the skill? Currently, and unfortunately, you do it the same way its been done for hundreds of years. You pay a boatload of money, you go to school, you take classes (whether or not you know the subject), and you demonstrate competency. Once you've done this, you get the coveted degree.
But the times they are a changing. Today we not only have information, but we have information organized in courses. We have hundreds of hours of lectures on a wide range of topics. Universities are just catching up to sites that have been around much longer.
So the real question becomes will universities be able to keep an iron grip on their monopoly of certification? There is a new model that is just emerging. It is the idea that if you already understand the content you shouldn't need to jump through the hoops. This idea should terrify universities, but not to innaction. Competency-based certificaiton is a great opportunity for cash-strapped schools. It has the potential to open up a new and incredibly large new market.
The idea of competency-based certification is already being practiced quite successfully over at Western Governors University. WGU develops no content. They have no professors. Instead, their students learn from some other source--any other source, and once they feel they know the content, they take a test. If they pass the test, they earn the credit. It may take four years to earn a degree, it may take four months, it all depends on what you know.
I'm willing to bet as we see more and more information online, we will hear a larger cry for an alternative to the traditional higher education. Good, smart folks in developing countries can't hope to save the money and come to the US to pay the high price of getting a degree. But they can log onto the internet and pay to take a test, especially if the degree or certificate they get by taking the test leads them to a better life.
The only question not answered is will universities lead the way, or be drug, kicking and screaming.