Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Education - Beyond Courses

Can you be in the business of Education and stop selling courses? 

It is a tough ask, as everyone in business has a course-fetish. Courses are the big hammers that the whole sector uses to solve the problems of the world. No matter what you come up with, the educator is likely to say - there is a course for that!

We may not quarrel with the essential idea. Course stands to mean a route, or a procedure, originating from the Latin word for Run. But the course, as it appears in our jargon today, is a frozen thing, and means not a journey but rather a static feast of textbooks, lectures, assignments and exams. 

Indeed, many people are dismayed by how it is usually done - often with little consideration or care for the person involved. However, course is such a common currency in education that, eventually, everyone seems to fall in the Course trap. It is so endemic that being educated and being Coursed (which indeed means chased) have become two different things altogether.

So, what is the route to education if we have to break the spell of courses? Experience is the answer I pursue, wherein the real life, rather than a collection of textbooks (however cleverly designed), presents the route to education. Old ideas die hard, and I hear the argument that these experiences must be designed - rather than being defining occurrences by themselves. This is self-defeating - remember John Dewey's late-life regret of using the Experience word as it came to mean such a different thing (see my earlier post here) - because eventually, these experiences would become canned to meet the expectations of a curriculum. No escape from the empire striking back when one starts imposing a structure on the experience, rather than following it.

Indeed, experience with a small e and Experiences, as a designed thing with a big E, are two different things altogether, and I am keen to emphasise this distinction. In the latter version, the tyranny of Courses is evident - this is indeed nothing but a course with a different label - as it must be when one is still being driven by academic priorities. My work, which I see in terms of inverting the Education-Employment flow, or ending the divide altogether, concerns itself more with the small e word, of building learning around the very act of living. 

This was indeed Dewey's big idea, which seems surprisingly relevant today even in the rather narrow context of my work. The key transformation of the workplace today, due to technologies of computation and communication, is the increasing emphasis of tacit abilities in terms of human work. The innate knowledge of how to connect with other human beings, how to negotiate, how to make someone feel good, how to respond to disruptions and disasters when needed, all those sorts of things which a course, a defined set of knowledge, can not really address. And, this, despite the apparent woolliness of experience, can only be achieved through living it. 

However, this is quite difficult to set up as a model. There may be talk about education innovation, but most of this conversation is driven by For-Profit education, which can not see beyond courses anyway. In fact, as I explored in other posts, the only innovation the For-Profit Education is comfortable with is financial innovation, and in their formulaic world, they are as far from the learner as one could possibly be. This idea, constructing learning out of personal experiences of learners, which automatically imply a great level of flexibility, care, sensitivity, is antithetical to scale-seeking For-Profit models as anything could be. 

This may mean that the great hope of changing education, in spite of the claims, may actually come from people willing and capable of transforming personal experiences into learnable moments. First step in this process is to reject the way the world of education is organised, by prestige hierarchy and in terms of a neat distribution of courses. Going beyond courses is a crucial first step, because, that would make everything else crumble fast and quick. 

 

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