There is this big question around the viability of new models of delivering learning. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as they are called provide digital educational contents to interested learners mostly FREE or at ridiculously cheap prices if at all. Examples are Udacity, Coursera, MIT Open Courseware who deliver learning via online channels. I took a refresher course on Micro-Economics via MIT Open Courseware recently and I must confess, I was thoroughly educated. This was a pre-recorded lecture and the pedagogy was not limiting in any way at all. In fact, there were assignments and although it was not real time, I felt as if I was part of a live class.
Its a question of time
Some have described them (MOOCs) as disruptive technologies that threaten the Brick and Mortar traditional learning models. Others posit differently along the lines of the argument that the technology is complimentary and not necessarily a substitute. It is difficult to say for sure what the future of education is but like they say, time will tell. If I must bet though, I would say that the option provided by the MOOCs can become a more viable alternative. I believe the technology will grow and become sophisticated. The question of social capital (trust) is a germane one and I think a new accreditation framework will make it possible for the certificates issued by the MOOCs to command value in the real world.
Eat or be eaten?
My bone of contention in this piece is not to argue for or against the sustainability of either of the models. Whether or not the traditional brick and mortar institutions will be eaten by the more nascent digital natives is a function of many other factors beyond technology. Again, time will tell. If anything at all, I would love to offer my point of view on what I would consider a modest proposal for traditional brick and mortar institutions to re-imagine their model with a view of not only assuaging the threats (if any) posed by the newbies but to increase their value contribution to the society. So, in some sense, I am answering the question of how traditional ivy league schools (Harvard, Princeton, Yale and others) can preserve their relevance in the foreseeable future.
My University project work
My undergraduate project work was titled “Risk Management in Universal Banks”. I studied some selected institutions within my University metropolis (16 of them). My graduating class was a large one so as a result, we were paired into groups. I was paired with two amiable ladies. I’d like to think that the field work was a thorough one not because the lecturer graded us a ‘B’ but the sheer amount of work that went into the project. For instance, I journeyed Ilorin (Kwara State of Nigeria) to Ife (Osun State of Nigeria) to make use of the more vast University library resources as well as consult a few of the scholars in that environment on their interim thoughts. This was immense stress and strain but it paid off at the end. I have a degree in Finance to show for it. Same for my other two colleagues. But, apart from fulfilling a mandatory academic requirement of writing a project which is now lying in my shelf and somewhere saved in my University’s archive, what else? What has become of the work?
The problem with the Model T educational model
Wouldn’t it be great that the minimum four years (depending on the course) that students put in to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree be invested in a more worthy pursuit? Shouldn’t we re-imagine the objective of today’s educational model as executed by the Brick and Mortar schools. If the objective of education is to empower human beings to be more productive, shouldn’t we in fact, make that so imperative. Consider the current framework where students at the end of their pursuit are handed certificates reflecting their cumulative historical performance and from there are expected to proceed to the illustrious job market. In the industrial era, this model worked perfectly because the economy was based on a simple logic of human beings playing a specific role. This was the Henry Ford Model T factory era. Today, we are in a knowledge economy where continuous creativity and innovation is a critical success factor. The challenges that we deal with today are totally different from the ones we dealt with during the industrial era. We are running on a very tired operating system. It can’t simply deliver the kind of productivity we need today.
The BIG idea
What we need is productivity-driven action learning on steroids. Circumspectly, what we currently operate is a loose arm chair. We prepare scholars for a future that is fraught with much uncertainty equipped with soon-to-be-obsolete tools and knowledge. This is a recipe for disaster. If you doubt this position, take a look at the rate of unemployment. Recently, the CEO of General Electric (GE) Jeff Immelt said that in 36 months, 70% of back office function were digitized at GE. Machines are taking over the jobs and this won’t change. What we need is to re-imagine the entire framework for education in such a way that students are on an iterative lane. We need schools to tap into the massive energy of this army of scholars. Our schools must become grounds for real problem solving. Our students should graduate with actual business plans/models ready to execute. Our universities and colleges should become laboratories and solution grounds. This is the way forward.