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I’ve got an email thread going with John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press, and it’s conversations like these that make me wish there was a better tool for having transparent, but directed conversations. The discussion topic is education, specifically the current university system, and I think there’s a pretty interesting parallel to the journalism industry.
John asks, “Is there still room for a professor to teach wisdom?”, to which I reply (emphasis added):
I think professors can teach wisdom, but so can students. The current model, to take a journalism analogy, is broadcast, whereas the technology is quickly allowing many to many communication (or education). There’s still room for professional news organizations (or traditional universities), but they are now facing the crunch to evolve in order to maintain their relevance. The one thing that the universities still hold as a competitive, monopolistic advantage is certification, in my opinion. A substantial alternative, a system for rapidly certifying you in certain areas if you already hold the knowledge or can pick it up at a greater rate, will be a huge disruptor.
I don’t think the “current college system” will remain relevant. Instead of thinking about textbooks and lectures, which in some arenas are becoming obsolete faster than they can be printed (i.e. journalism, where the “Web” was discussed in only one part of one chapter of my J201 textbook), I think universities need to be thinking a lot further forward.
This [many to many communications technology] presents a huge flaw in the “top-down” model, too. For universities to function as it stands, the professors must “learn” the material before the students do, hold a monopoly on that information, and then present that information. The problem is that the information they need to teach will be changing at an increasingly greater rate. That’s why the evolutionary, “network-based” model is appropriate.
I’d like to continue that evolutionary learning, where knowledge grows from the ground up, is likely the only way that universities (or any other education system) can “keep up with the times” and not teach 5 year old material. The real issue is that we’re amidst a fundamental paradigm shift on top of accelerating change, and that most institutions that have dealt information in the past aren’t adequately forward-thinking to survive the transition.