Monday, December 15, 2008

Are Traditional Schools and Universities becoming Irrelevant??

Recently a colleague sent me this Blog posting that discusses the insular nature of schools. The author engages in dialogue that demonstrates the divergence between the networked informal learning world and the traditional approach adopted by schools and their governing bodies.
To a large extent, the author suggests that it is the institutional rules and policies around Web access that stop and discourage networked learning.

I agree with this perspective to a point, but why then do the vast majority of universities who offer students open access, pursue predominantly the same approach with the majority of their courseware?
The answer, I believe, lies in what education managers believe about what works best and how you can control the paradigm. School teachers, particularly those who go to university direct from school and then enter the profession, are successful in the traditional approach to learning. They have one or more degrees and their learning style suites the type of instruction offered in school and university. For them, the traditional approach works, and it is their whole experience. It is no surprise that they will resist disruptive and dramatically different approaches--even engage in sabotage (consciously/sub-consciously) if they are forced to adopt them.

In essence, there is a divide between formal and informal learning where the commodification of education is facing serious challenge. Schools are required to show evidence of controlled and specific learning outcomes, many of which do not meet the 21st century skill sets required. Universities are trying to sell courses and programs (qualifications) to augment the funding from government that has been systematically erroded over the past 15 years. In Australia, university enrollments are falling as prospective students come to realise that there is a growing emphasis with employment on demonstrating your capabilities using a portfolio approach, with the requisite evidence, rather than relying on self-accrediting universities to bestow a qualification.

If schools, particularly public schools, are to halt the decline in student enrolments they need to offer learning experiences that are engaging, challenging and reflect the values and skills of the 21st century, not the ninteenth!
Universities are even more threatened because there is no compulsory nature to enrollment and the costs to students are considerable. The solution for universities is the same as schools. Make the learning flexible, engaging, real-world, challenging and develop knowledge and skills appropriate for 21st century work and life.

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