Monday, 12 January 2009

The future of education. If it can pay the mortgage.

Graham Attwell predicts that "2009 will be the year of Open Education. Seminars, workshops, lectures, courses - all available on line and for free."

I really like the idea of free, open education. I've had several conversations about this over the last few years, but the time feels right now. As ever, to say that I've even half-thought this through would be a massive exaggeration, but that's never stopped me blogging in the past...

So, free education. No fees. How could that be possible?

Well, if it was online distance education, then the overheads would be low. No buildings to pay for. No heating bills. No security guards or cleaners to pay.

The software could all be web based services, so no costs to the provider there. We could take advantage of free services like Flickr and Twitter and Second Life.

If the educational experience was primarily based on the mediation of knowledge by expert tutors, then the only cost would be for their wages. I'll come back to this.

What about accreditation? I often hear that students only study to get marks so that they can get a degree. Students that care more about learning for its own sake, and don't give a damn about marks and qualifications, might be attracted to the idea of open education. Personally, I want to help students that love learning more than validation. It would also remove the inefficiencies that summative assessment and its subsequent iterations of inspection and quality assurance result in.

What about assessment? Hang on, didn't I just blow that one out of the water in that last paragraph? Well, I have a problem with summative assessment, but I think formative assessment is fantastic. The regular and precise assessment of where someone is, where they want or need to be, and what can or should be done to get there is the key to efficient learning, in my humble opinion. In an open education system, there need be no limit to just how far this process could take a student. No top limit imposed by the level of a qualification.

Would open education need technical support? Savvy students can solve technical problems, but point of need support can oil learning very effectively. Maybe e-technicians would be as useful as academic guides. Maybe peer support could fulfill this role.

Without accreditation, inspections and physical overheads, then what management structure would be needed to support this open educational structure? Well, ideally, very little. Maybe education could be primarily about tutors and students.

So the only significant costs are the wages of the tutor. It would be nice to think that quality academic staff would work for free, but I get very well paid by the old fashioned education system, thank you very much. Why would I work for free? I'd consider a wage cut that equalled the money I would save by not traveling on a train to Leeds twice a week and paying hotel bills. So who pays my wages? This is where my thinking gets even fuzzier, and possibly more controversial.

Maybe HEFCE pays wages directly to me, bypassing all of the layers of top-slicing middlemen. They're going to want to know that their money isn't wasted though, which would probably fire up the whole inspection/quality beast again and spoil all the fun.

Perhaps the students could pay fees, but they might want a qualification for their money, powering up the crushing machinery of accreditation.

Maybe a philanthropic institution or individual might grant no-strings-attached funding, as long as their name is plastered all over everything.

Similarly, maybe a commercial sponsor might provide the dosh, insisting on the strategic placing of their logos and applying corporate branding to everything. The PR opportunites might make it worth their while. Open education - sponsored by Coca Cola - refreshing learning worldwide!

Maybe the whole thing is funded by advertising. It seems to work for Google, although the current economic climate demonstrates how volatile this might be as a funding stream. I want to know how much I'm going to earn next year.

Maybe there's another way.

Oh, I don't know. I'm just blabbering as usual. It's how I entertain myself.

1 comment:

eswar said...

This an extraordinary way of thinking. Even i do have the same idea. thanks Mr. Ian.