I recently sat in a policy discussion where people were chewing on what the next “moon shot” or “game-changer” in higher education was going to be. While there was general consensus that “moon shots” were over-rated and rarely worked, I was puzzled that there was less consensus about the “game-changer”, which I took it as a form of denial. The next game-changers are already with us and they are both transformative and disruptive. They are the web and web-enabled technology. In plain terms, these game-changers rob the university of its historical function of knowledge creation and dissemination precisely because they lie beyond the university’s reach, embedded in the larger surrounding society. And they simultaneously pierce the access, learning support, and employment guidance functions that the university historically has controlled. For the first time, universities do not control their own futures any more than do publishers and newspapers.
Here’s an example. Anya Kamenetz, whose DIY U, caught so many peoples’ attention, recently published a follow-up work, The Edupunk’sGuide to Certificates. The Guide is organized in a sequence of steps that a self-directed learner can take to understand where they are, how they learn, and how to chart and follow a learning path that they select for themselves. The Guide’sorganizational structure rests on dozens of urls, apps, and programs that already exist to support learning and its validation in multiple forms at every step in the self-directed learning process. And soon enough, someone will produce a software version of the Guide and then other versions as well. It is a simple matter to imagine a variety of approaches following this general scenario with varying levels of support, guidance, and control.
In fact, a working early-stage model of such a platform exists at KNEXT. When self-directed learners access the platform, they can reflect of what they know, what they want to know, and look at simulated degree programs and educational pathways based on where their journey is going to take them. They can also organize all the learning they have done, formal as well as informal, in a portfolio organized to place them clearly on their learning path, standing with their learning history and looking forward to their learning future. And finally, if they want to get a third party assessment of the academic value of their accumulated learning, that is available as well. In short, there is activity across the entire spectrum of learning, from pre-engineered and self-paced to open sourced and self-directed with more conventional models in between. All are enhanced and scalable as never before by the web and web-enabled technology.
What we are verging on with these developments is what I call a new “pedagogy of learning”. While this may seem like a confusion of terms to some (and I readily concede that there may be better language to describe what I see), I see that actual engagement with knowledge – what I know and am able to do and what I want to know and be able to do – and associated reflection and assessment is a teaching-learning strategy in and of itself. If reflection is the process of deducing meaning from broad experience, then the act of planning, implementing, engaging, and evaluating your learning, however you conduct it, is a pedagogical exercise that can be joined and supported by peers and experts alike.
Perhaps most exciting, this approach to learning also prepares the learner for life in the knowledge economy and information society that is so much discussed these days. The actual exercise and activity of learning becomes the personal laboratory for the learner, strengthening their abilities to synthesize and think critically, write and analyze, distinguish reliable from faulty information as an integrated part of their educational journey. It is the ultimate engaged learning experience, done right.