Thursday, September 1, 2011

Credentialing versus teaching

I think that there is a distinction missing here:

Learning is cheaper and easier than ever. And yet getting a degree is more expensive. How’s that? Something’s off, in a big way. Now of course you can push this too far: “Does Yglesias think we don’t need colleges because people can just look things up on Wikipedia instead?” No, I don’t. But I do remember hearing a lot of bluster from old-line media outlets once upon a time that proved to be completely wrong.

I think that the argument about ease of information transfer is right on. That is why a lot of the argument about higher education have settled into "credentialing" and "signaling". Neither of these functions is easier in the internet age and, to some extent, they may be harder (due to more noise and less signal). That makes it very valuable for universities to be able to do these functions.

The problem, as I see it, is that both tasks can be separated from objective outcomes. If you take a program to learn something then that is a concrete and testable outcome. If you take a program to get a credential, then it is quite possible to divorces this from skills or learning (see mail order college degrees).

That is the function that it gets easy to dilute and that could be a very big deal at some point.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of those déjà vu stories. The past hundred years has been marked by a steady stream of technological advances in media and every damned one of them going back to the first moving pictures and experimental radio broadcasts has been followed by someone predicting the end of the education system as we know it.

    Then and now, the people making these predictions were working under an over-simplistic concept of a what a university did, leaving out things like credentialing.