Beyond courses

Thanks to Jeff Cobb for linking to George Siemens’s A World without Courses. While this 15-minute presentation (an Articulate Presenter slideshow) focuses on education, Siemens connects to what I see as the less formal process of learning as well.

He sees courses as structured, organized, and dealing with bounded domains. The institutions that deliver courses provide a kind of value through accreditation and the overall reputation of the institution.

Education can now involve much more distributed content. In other words, things are not necessarily neatly organized or structured; they may appear in media not easily wrapped into a classroom format. And education can now involve distributed conversation as well.

Learning theory and organizational practice(That last point reminds me of something Harold Jarche recently noted: Ryerson University recently charged a student with academic misconduct for creating a virtual study group on Facebook.)

I appreciate Siemens sharing his thoughts about how we’ll determine the value of learning in this highly distributed world. The examples of eBay reputation points or Amazon referral systems don’t fill me with optimism. People who figure out how to game such systems are usually nimbler than those who figure out gaming has occurred.

Some of what seems like new uncertainty, though, may be a repackaging of what was uncertain before. I’m thinking of the purported value or reputation of formal institutions. We tend to ascribe a certain worth to a degree from Harvard or Yale, and maybe a different value to one from Michigan or SMU, and perhaps a lesser one to my own almae matres, the University of Detroit and Emporia State University.

Had I gone to Yale, in theory I could benefit from a potentially wider or higher-quality network — but in practice, if a Yale grad doesn’t activity use that network, then its value lessens over time.

More and more I’m convinced that most of what I’ve learned professionally has in fact been the result of a few factors. There is a kind of recommendation/certification (e.g., workshops sponsored by groups I respect), there’s a good deal of word-of-mouth, and there’s been a fair amount of self-selection. In the latter instance, I’ve sometimes chosen some formal event because it looked like I could learn more about Topic X, and because the cost didn’t seem prohibitive.

I think I’m not as prone to see or place a value on the less formal learning that I’ve engaged in. For example, years ago my coworkers and I eagerly participated in an annual user’s conference held by Boeing Computer Services for users of its mainframe-based computer-based training system. We would step back from our day-to-day work and think about things we’d tried to improve how we used CBT to train people in the Amtrak reservation system.

That reflection and our desire to share with others turned what we jokingly called show-and-tell into a kind of integration for us and an invitation to our counterparts in other companies. (“Here’s something cool we tried that helped us deal with such-and-such a problem.”)

Getting back to George Siemens, perhaps individuals and organizations are working out ways to measure and assess the value of new ways of learning. Not all the measures are going to work, not all the value is really going to be there (call it the Bear Stearns factor). The conversation’s certainly worth having.

Image adapted from a photo by Todd Lappin of Telstar Logistics under a Creative Commons license.

One thought on “Beyond courses

  1. Dave–“Some of what seems like new uncertainty, though, may be a repackaging of what was uncertain before.” A very good point. People tend to forget that a lot of what counts as validation and/or accreditation is relatively arbitrary in the first place and has as much to do with market(ing) forces as with actual intellectual or even practical value. –Jeff

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