Thursday, June 11, 2015

How Higher Ed Will Change : An Unified Theory

There is consensus that Higher Education must change, but many views on what it would change to. 

This conversation about Higher Education change are usually carried along two parallel lines. The first, Financial, is closely linked to the decline in popularity of the Welfare State, and of the doctrine of publicly provided education in general. The second, Technological, stems from the dematerialisation of communication and contact technologies, and the emergent possibility of human relationships (and, therefore, instructional contact) without the constraint of physical facilities or the availability of learner and the tutor at a specific point of time and place.

However, there is a third way to approach the shape of coming change in Higher Ed, and this is to approach the conversation from the changes in the nature of knowledge and work. At this point, the conversation about educational change becomes a conversation about education, not just limited to policy wonks or venture capitalists, but those who had come in contact with the unaddressed creature, students, and the undefined objective, knowledge. At this point, one starts questioning what education is about, and how would this transform as the work changes and social relations transform.

One result of technological change is that the process-based work is getting done technologically. Lately, we are thinking about this in terms of automation and robots, but this has been happening for last two hundred years and this was the basis of what we now call the Industrial Revolution. The financial model, that of education for private gains funded by private means, is aligning educational outcomes more and more with post-education productivity gains, and therefore, with this reality of knowledge and work. The essential idea, which is manifested in a variety of rhetoric, 'knowledge workers', 'critical thinkers', 'leaders', is that any education must lead to outcomes consistent with this changing nature of work.

If we, therefore, must propose an unified theory of educational change, we should try to look beyond the usual financial or technological discourse, and talk about the knowledge and outcomes in these terms. And, in this, a big departure from industrial era education, which has been more or less our model for the last two hundred years, is apparent. Since process based work can be technologically done, the outcome of education must be to develop tacit capabilities of an individual. And, as we know, Tacit capabilities are difficult to teach, except through the laboriously doing the work and reflecting on the work done.

The explicit knowledge, something that can be taught, has become widely available. The tacit capability, how to find what is needed, has become the essential human capability to trump over a machine. The objective of human education, therefore, should now shift away from the industrial era model of content-driven (read Textbooks) explicit knowledge to a new engagement, based on real work and real life, built around inquiry and reflection, rather than absorption and instruction.

So, we must move beyond classrooms not because we can not afford it or there is a better technology, but simply because it is inefficient in producing the kind of knowledge and capabilities we need. Thus, project-based and experiential learning must be at the core of our educational vision, and the financial and technological aspects of the debate are just enablers of this.

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