Credentials please

In the February 28 issue of Forbes magazine, Steve Forbes writes about how the Internet and other technology will change higher education.  He quotes from a February 1 piece by Louis Lataif of Boston University:

If you can buy a self-paced calculus course on DVD for $67, is it worth spending $5,000 to take the same course at a private university? Of course, the mutual learning that occurs in college is of value. But is it worth spending 75 times more for the same body of knowledge?”

Good question.

I enjoyed both articles.  Though, I think they missed key aspects of the value of higher education.  Higher education isn’t just about learning.  It’s also — and maybe more — about signaling, credentialing and networking.

I’ll be interested to see if new forms of education can marginalize these aspects of education.  I believe much of this value derives from bureaucratic organizations.

Bureaucrats love to hire credentialed associates,  if only to protect their own job from when a hire turns out bad.

Well, he was from [big name school].  How was I supposed to know?

He had such-and-such experience on his resume.  How was I supposed to know?

Unfortunately, in bureaucratic organizations such nonsense is met with a shoulder shrug , a nod and better luck next time, instead of a more appropriate corrective action like, Part of your job is hiring, developing and promoting good people.  Perhaps you should look beyond things like their school or experience and evaluate your hires based more on the what they have actually accomplished–much like a basketball or baseball coach might do. You don’t hear many pro baseball coaches explaining away their duds by claiming they were from such a good baseball school.

Here are some of the things I wouldn’t be surprised to see emerge for education over the next 25 years:

  • Effective bottoms-up instructional education efforts for preschool through 8th grade will emerge away from the central command of the DoE and state control.
  • Much of the formal instruction that occurs from 9th grade through the 2nd year of college will become somewhat more of commodity and easier to intersperse with other forms of education.
  • One of those forms of education will be learning-by-doing.  That might mean that doctors start on med school a couple years earlier.  Entrepreneurs might find apprenticeships with venture capital firms, business owners will work with folks directly.   Seth Godin recently experimented with a learning-by-doing MBA project, where he screened several folks to come in and work with him on their own self-directed, intense projects over a few month period.
  • There will still be room for universities.  But in addition to degree programs, colleges will more and more offer certification programs.  These will be smaller and more specialized snippets of knowledge.

Of course, there will be many other things that make an impact.  Screen casting is just now catching on.  I’ve learned a good deal about economics while jogging and listening to podcasts.

I’m very interested to watch what will unfold.

1 thought on “Credentials please

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