Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Universal Universities?

Millions are now accessing Higher Education without going near a campus. Many aren’t that bothered about getting a degree either. There’s been an explosion of activity in Open Educational Resources:

Open Learn (OU)

MIT Courseware

YouTube EDU

iTunes U

Project Gutenburg




University of the People

Professional educators assume that everyone wants to be part of an institution, signing on for courses and getting accredited. In practice most adult learning is precisely the opposite. In my 25 years of designing and delivering training into large organisations, very few had any form of accreditation. What mattered was whether people learned or not. I like using these resources but have no interest in attending these institutions or getting another degree. Perhaps we need a rethink around the whole idea of the desirability of degrees. There has been a huge surge in degree getting, yet it is not clear that this is desirable.

New learners understand the importance of quality and sharing. Universities don’t really get this. They rarely collaborate and share and this results in massive levels of duplication, with every lecturer inventing their own course. Why attend your own institution’s lectures when you can get world-class lectures from MIT fro free? The technology is allowing students to access top-class content by using the technology.

Of course, the Universities who have gone down this route have much to gain. Many see this as a valuable marketing awareness tool. It’s no accident that the ‘money-smart’ top tier has been generous with its content. They are confident enough in their brand to make this move.

What’s interesting about the funding of much of this is that it ultimately comes from the private sector, especially The William and Flora Hewitt Foundation (of Hewlitt Packard fame). To be fair the contributing Universities contribute greatly through the delivery of content. This philanthropic activity from both sources is heartening.

So are we on the cusp of an era where the drunken meander through a 3 or 4 year degree becomes increasingly anachronistic? Couldn’t a University just offer assessment with no teaching? Why can’t I learn on my own, or with others, then simply get assessed by an organisation, rather than hanging around for years in crap lectures and student union bars? Why don’t Universities allow year round access for online students? Why do they close down for so long every year?


Unknown said...

Donald, I spent many a happy hour hanging around student union bars!!

Bob Harrison said...

Just to show Kieran is not my favourite Rhiannon(20) has just started at Uni after 2 years recovering from the damage done at grammar school and 2 years back at an FE college doing A levels.

A £3000 fee up front for 3x2 hour lectures and 3 hrs tutorial...her personal tutor told her at her first meeting he was far too busy to see her again until Jan 2010 as he has a book to write!

Value for money my arse!