A few weeks ago I participated in a panel discussion about the reinvention of higher education sponsored by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The discussion was a critical reminder of our urgent need to respond to the new demands for accountability and relevance in higher education.
Colleges now face extraordinary financial pressures and technological changes, and learners now operate in an age of unprecedented access to information and bodies of knowledge. With the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as one example of how higher education is responding, there has been much debate about their potential to democratize education on the one hand, or further exacerbate a growing educational divide on the other.
MOOCs are a current innovation; they are educational tools no different than textbooks. They do not represent the disruption of education as we know it any more than they are a panacea for increasing access. Instead of fearing free information and online innovations, we should embrace them and ask how they might best serve the learner’s process and objectives of inquiry.
Content-delivery tools, however, need to be held within a framework that takes responsibility for contextualizing information with the direct experience that forms the basis of knowledge – the relationship between the knower and the known. That framework is at heart of progressive education – and that is why Goddard’s voice is needed, now more than ever, in these national conversations about reform.
With good reason, people are now questioning the value of paying a lot of money for a focused degree that might be outdated or irrelevant in 10 years. In this environment, we need to stay mindful of the value of experiential learning, of teaching people to be entrepreneurial about their passions and rooting those passions in the needs and opportunities that exist in our local communities.
Education in this context becomes a process where life, learning and livelihood are inextricably tied.
Goddard, like many colleges across the country right now, is being asked to quantify the value of a student’s investment in a college degree. The whole discussion of ROI In my view is over-simplified, however, when considered only from a “dollar-in versus dollar-out” equation lens, and must include the enormous complexity of long-term value. In a rapidly changing economy and the dynamic nature of work itself, we need to stop pretending that there is somehow a direct financial equation between the degree and the job, between the investment in education and knowing one’s future path with certainty.
Access to information doesn’t necessarily lead to knowledge. As we re-envision higher education and innovate for a new economy, we must stay focused on what we know about human learning itself, and remember that how we learn is at least equally important as what we learn about. While we support open-source information, we know that no one learns in isolation. We believe in the integrity of community-based, individualized learning that allows for a lifetime of growth and ingenuity.
Individualized learning is now on the cusp of the transformation of higher education, and it was a privilege to represent Goddard in this discussion and speak to the learner-centered model of learning that we know so much about here.