Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Do we need Credentials?

So far in this Blog we have discussed the need to create authentic learning environments to engage our learners and deepen their level of learning. We have looked a number of ways to synthesise this authenticity and to design learning space that will interest the learner.

But why do learners seek to join this learning environment? In my experience few do so for an outright love of learning. Most do so to gain a credentialed award that they can use to further their career, and often with the expectation of enduring some unpleasant learning experiences along the way.

In Australian Universities the average age of our students is rising with many of our local students seeing credentials as their way to improve their job prospects. In my university approximately 75% of our students are mature-aged learners, many of whom have full or part-time work commitments.
The vast majority of these mature-aged learners have had substantial experience in the workforce and bring extensive life experiences to their learning environment.
With these life experiences come expectations that the learning experiences will be fit for purpose and appropriate to the professional duties required within the workforce.

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the workforce rates the possession of generic skills and attributes as highly as professional content knowledge. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) “insight” journal discusses the need for this kind of skill and attribute development in it’s Issue 10.

But, have you ever met a person who seems to have an extraordinary level of knowledge and experience, but no formal qualifications? I know quite a few. How did they achieve this with out the guidance and gate-keeping offered by an educational institution? What do you think might happen if industry began to value knowledge and experience as highly as qualifications?
So where is credentialism going? Is it an artefact of the times where institutions were custodians of knowledge and the only ones capable of judging learning and professional competence?

Today, anyone with a computer and access to the Internet has more information available to them that any single university can offer. While many of these institutions claim that it is the learning design inherent in their courses and programs that makes them an essential part of the learning, very few of these claims stand up to any level of scrutiny. Universities survive because professional bodies insist on employing graduates and universities have for some time held a monopoly in the area of conferring degrees. These days, however, Australia government universities are facing competition from private universities and private organisations who have sought and gained accreditation to confer undergraduate degrees in specific discipline areas. Qantm is one such organisation who pitch to a multimedia niche for full-fee paying students. The monopoly universities once had is already being eroded, the question is; how far will this erosion go and will it lead to a more performance/portfolio-based approach to employment?

To remain competitive universities will most likely need to concentrate on offering very high quality learning experiences and a great deal less on the gate-keeping of professional employment.

More soon,

Scot.

1 comment:

mspecht said...

Scott,

You have some fantastic posts, in my own opinion right on the money. Generic skills are a very interesting subject. I attended a session at the recent AHRI conference in Sydney discussing just this fact, an interesting area for exploration. Dr Peter Waterhouse stated that they are "the cement that holds things together".

I am interested in your ideas on valuing knowledge and experience as highly as qualifications. Not something I have given a lot of thought too, however maybe I should.

Keep up the posts. Have you thought of getting an RSS feed so we can all keep up with your ideas?