What comes to mind when you think about education? For many, it means a college education. However, in my opinion, colleges are woefully out of sync with what students demand today. Today, education is about lifelong learning, not college. I know that many of you will not agree with my assertions, and I look forward to hearing your opinion in the comments below.
Colleges were designed when knowledge was a scarce commodity. As such, with the power of scarcity, colleges got to define the rules. They broke learning into semesters and specific time frames because it was easier for them to administer. In this day and age, colleges no longer control knowledge; the internet changed everything. The internet primarily shifted the focus away from the institution to the needs of the student and lifelong learning. However, colleges have not adapted well to this.
I believe that with the exception of certain vocations, such as physicians and lawyers, college is an obsolete model of education.
One reason college is not what it used to be is due to the rapidly escalating costs compared to the earning power that a degree will give you over your career. College prices are determined by each institution, which is why you pay way more for a degree from Yale than from the University of Phoenix.
Moreover, today’s students have many alternative choices to spending two to eight years in college at the outset of their career. Sites such as iTunes U, Coursera, and Udacity now offer much of the same material offered at a traditional college at a fraction of the cost, and on a schedule more suited for a working adult.
There is a saying that they can take away everything that you own, but they can’t take away your education. However, this statement does not take into consideration the depreciation value of what you learned.
Knowledge is growing exponentially. In many fields, the useful life of knowledge is now measured in months rather than years.
“One of the most persuasive factors is the shrinking half-life of knowledge. The “half-life of knowledge” is the time span from when knowledge is gained to when it becomes obsolete. Half of what is known today was not known 10 years ago. The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and is doubling every 18 months according to the American Society of Training and Documentation (ASTD).”Cathy Gonzalez – The Role of Blended Learning in the World of Technology
As a result, much of the information currently being taught at colleges is already obsolete while the rest of the content has already matured and is well on its way toward becoming obsolete. Therefore, you need to embrace lifelong learning to keep pace.
College is what I call “status learning”, and signals to potential employers that you had the ability to follow the crowd and stay the course. With status learning, you take a course to get credit. However, following the crowd also signals that you are not an innovative thinker, and innovation is coveted by today’s employers.
By contrast, enlightened employees and entrepreneurs follow what is called “functional learning”. With functional learning, the person is driven by a current need and ferrets out the knowledge and skills necessary to maintain a functional level of understanding that makes them better at doing a job.
Furthermore, traditional college students are forced to follow a curriculum to learn. Degree programs uses a linear approach where you are fed information in a specific sequence like you are reading a book from cover to cover. However, today content is extremely interconnected and by no means linear. Curiosity and necessity create an environment of self-directed learning to string together topics to explore based upon a person’s specific prior knowledge and the needs of their job. Self-directed learning is not an option with a college degree program.
Status learning obtained from college is knowledge gained through secondhand sources, such as through reading a textbook and listening to lectures. In nearly every other language besides English, the idea “to know” is described by at least two different verbs based on how the knowledge was gained and the depth of one’s understanding.
In German, there is “Wissenschaft,” which is knowledge gained through secondhand sources., such as through reading a manual, textbook, or listening to a lecture. However, functional learning obtained through curiosity and need is often implemented as part of a person’s job, providing firsthand personal experiences, which is known as “Kenntnis” in German.
It seems counter-intuitive that traditional colleges charge far more money for status learning where they assign credits than for functional learning. Courses offered at the many online college alternatives such as iTunes U, Coursera, and Udacity offer the same material taught at traditional colleges but at a fraction of the price.
Adding to that mix, platforms like Udemy and Lynda offer many topic level longtail courses and certifications. These longtail courses are very niche level programs. There is usually not enough of a local market for the niche content to justify running a local course. However, since online courses can be accessed regardless of geography, longtail courses can be economically viable while offering the same content in a traditional college may not.
The reputation of a college dictates what a person is expected to pay for a degree program. For example, Yale University charges five times more for a law degree than the University of the District of Columbia. Colleges have to instill loyalty and esprit de corps in their student body and maintain it with graduates to create a kind of eliteness as a way to justify their high prices.
While Yale University law school may be held in high regard, as evidenced by the price of tuition, there are no peer reviews of the actual courses being taught visible to potential new students. While you may have heard some other students share their experience with a specific professor or a course, there are no specific analytics a prospective student can use to help them make more informed decisions about which colleges to attend, degree programs to select, and professors or instructors to choose.
In contrast, borrowing from the eBay model, when a person takes a course taught at one of the many online colleges, students are able to rate their experience at the end of the program by assigning a star rating and often include a written narrative of their experience. Subsequent students can check out reviews before selecting one program over another.
In conclusion, a traditional college education is not a self-directed learning experience dictated by need or curiosity. Given the rapid pace of today’s knowledge growth doubling every 18 months, a traditional college education with its defined curriculums and often out-of-date content is no longer the best choice. Lifelong learning using online content sources is a must for anyone trying to stay current with their education.
How do you feel about lifelong learning vs college? Let me know in the comments below.
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