Students don’t need to attend formal classes anymore – they can YouTube a tutorial, sign up for a MOOC, watch a TED talk, Google the answer to a question, or research a Wiki entry. And that’s just the free stuff. Online seminars and workshops, especially in the area of software programming and code writing, are big business; and even vocational courses are looking to deliver more content via the web.
This week is the final part in my mini-series on the Three Pillars. (See Health and Finance.) Of the three, Education has probably done the most to embrace online – it’s certainly been at the forefront of the Internet and the web, both of which have their roots in academia. Yet of the three, it is the one vertical segment that is most vulnerable to disruptive technologies and changing business models.
Lifelong learning is going to become vital in keeping ourselves informed, skilled, up-to-date, relevant and employable (whether as hired labour or as self-employed freelances). Even in retirement, services like the University of the Third Age (U3A) can help in maintaining our mental wellbeing.
Few of us establish long-term relationships with schools or educational establishments we have attended – at best, we may join an alumni group, but in my experience, many such organisations are designed around fund-raising activities, “old boy” networks, quasi-masonic rituals and/or sadomasochistic memory recall at the annual reunion; and they don’t do so well when former students become increasingly mobile in the global workplace. On the other hand, the ability to attend so many different educational establishments and be exposed to different types of education services makes for a richer learning experience.
Online academic reference and research services have been around since the 1980s, and it’s now possible to source post-grad dissertations and PhD papers via vast online library databases. Part of this is driven by the academic need to “publish or perish”, part by changes in the publishing and information industry, part by the need to foster collaboration via better dissemination of primary research.
For myself, I participated in my first online seminar about 15 years ago, and webinars are commonplace for professional development, distance learning and collaborative projects. I have also enrolled in online tutorials for one-off courses on very specific topics – less about getting a qualification, more about enhancing my knowledge.
Students today, including those in primary and secondary education, are expected to participate online, even though they may still attend daily “in person” classes:
- tablet devices are mandatory – for access to textbooks, and for managing assignments
- students interact with their teachers and classmates via Learning Management Systems
- undergraduates are expected to develop online CVs as well as use dedicated social media platforms run by their colleges
- ebooks are capable of being personalised and customised – e.g., uploading your own notes, accessing peer comments, and interacting with teachers
Mass Open Online Courses (MOOC) are a logical extension of the webinar model – but of course, you don’t get the same certificate or diploma you would receive (assuming you get one at all) if you had enrolled for the class, completed the assignments and passed the exams. Some universities and colleges license their content (syllabus and curriculum) for local delivery by another institution – a bonus for students in remote locations, or unable to access more expensive colleges. Maintaining the integrity and quality of this “distributed” learning is still a challenge, and mutual recognition of qualifications (as well as certification and authentication) may yet be a barrier to student mobility.
Recognition of prior learning is a key feature of vocational education – but I can see a demand for more services that help me validate what I know and what I have learned (in the absence of a formal qualification) as well as helping prospective employers in candidate selection. There are also challenges in monitoring mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD), especially in areas such as health services, where even relatively junior nursing and ancillary staff in hospitals are required to maintain an online learning diary or journal as well as evidence of training completion and competence. (Question: who would be responsible if a nurse engaged by a hospital via a labour service provider failed to maintain currency in patient care, resulting in avoidable harm?)
Ultimately, the role of lifelong learning is in helping to plan, manage and develop our careers. Just as we might have a financial plan (to prepare for the future), and we would expect to manage our health (via regular check-ups and preventative measures), why wouldn’t also have a career plan, supported by a learning pathway? And if we are increasingly comfortable accessing content via mobile apps and the web, why wouldn’t we expect to pursue our learning needs online as well?
Next week: Another #co-working space opens in #Melbourne