What role do institutions like TAFE or universities have to
play in a self-educating world?
Every day I receive pamphlets in my letterbox (the physical one
outside the house) advertising all manner of services, from window
repair to roof tiling. This week I found received three
flyers offering house cleaning.
I didn't take it to heart (although my house is quite messy), but one
of the ads did stick out more than the others – in a large box on
both sides of the flyer were the words "Certified by TAFE
Certificate II Cleaning Operations".
Now I didn't even know that TAFE ran a Certificate
II in Cleaning Operations. Yet the cleaners had felt that
including this statement of certification would benefit their chances
in obtaining business from me. Why? Does the statement assure me that
they are better cleaners?
It comes down to reputation and credibility. If you say you can do
something well, how do I know that you can? Higher education
institutions have traditionally taught accredited courses to an agreed
standard, and have then assessed and certified the course participants.
These days we live in a
SEW - a Self-Educating World.
It is now possible, with the right motivation, to use online tools
from YouTube to Lynda.com, from the Khan
Academy through edX
and any number of unofficial means, to educate ourselves in almost any
subject, usually to a broader level than can be provided by many
traditional higher education institutions. After all, we have access
to all of the world's knowledge about everything.
I teach Digital Media at the Northern Sydney Institute, and I
certainly can't pretend that I know everything, or even more than many
of my students. We all have access to the same information, and
process it in our own ways. This is very different from the old model
of teacher-centric learning.
When anybody can learn anything, at anytime, in any place, at any
pace, then an institution could lose much of its appeal.
So what role do institutions like TAFE or universities have to play
in a self-educating world?
Firstly, they create an environment where the social aspects of
learning can take place. Most of our classes are collaborative in
nature – students are sharing, discussing, comparing their work.
Admittedly this can take place via social networks too, but there is a
different buzz when people come together physically around a common purpose.
Secondly, a student's work needs to be accredited by a respected
expert (or institution) before it is generally recognised that they
are competent, and the value of this accreditation depends on the
esteem of the expert or institution.
So in the future, institutions may find that their main business will
be administering assessments, filling in the gaps, and accrediting
students. And the esteem in which this accreditation is held will be
totally dependent on the reputation of the institution involved. This
means, of course, that people will pay more for accreditation from a
more highly respected institution. Yes, did I mention that they'll
probably have to pay for it?
So when I receive a flyer advertising cleaners, I may not know that
they are self-taught, but if they have been certified by a credible
institution, then I can assume they know their stuff. If only they
could tidy up for me, too.