Posted by: Gillian | March 22, 2012

Discontinuous learning is more than a Smart car

Are universities fit for your purpose? Not theirs, yours. Universities can look after themselves pretty well (cf Siemens, 2010). The question is, can you pick from universities’ courses to suit your life and learning needs? The answer may well be ‘no’ because universities, for all their efforts to supply courses in various formats still tend to expect registration and a pre-determined assessment.  It’s like buying a Smart car: you can change the colour of the bodywork panels to any combination you like but the chassis remains the same size and the body the same height. Yet the need (sometimes even the desire) to keep learning on our own terms are ever stronger as the context in which we live and work changes. To give that some perspective, the Anderson Group has calculated that the risk to business of a changing business landscape is twice the risk of an ageing workforce so everyone, no matter what their seniority, needs to keep learning. So, what can you do?

The first thing to note is that universities are aware of the problem.  Experiments in ‘giving away’ content may mean that you can access the knowledge, provided you know where to look for it and are confident enough to sift the bad from the good. Through massive open online courses (MOOCs), online or offline self-help groups or office workshops, you may be able to access peer support and even tuition but two major stumbling blocks remain:

  1. The overall road map
  2. Portable accreditation.

Road map

Making learning suit your purpose means you will have some idea of what you want at least in the short-term but fitting this with a standard university (or professional) qualification pathway can be less than transparent.  Also, your own requirements will change simply because life changes. It is easy to forget what you ‘know about’ and even easier to fail to connect ideas.  To keep some overview of what you have learned and help join up the pieces, mindmaps are a huge help – especially if you can embed hyperlinks in the nodes. (VUE is a good one for this.)  Widgets are also a great help in sifting information and I’m trying to collect a list of good learning widgets to share so if anyone wants to contribute, please let me know.

Portable accreditation

Your road map can be as flexible as you want but if you want accreditation, it helps to collect the evidence and your mindmap is a useful basis for an eportfolio that you then slice and dice as necessary for job applications or university qualifications.  This, however, still leaves the big gap between what may turn into a huge portfolio of in-depth learning and what can gain formal academic recognition from a respected university. First degrees and post-graduate degrees ‘by portfolio’ are extremely rare but partial (often, very partial!) accreditation is more widespread. The trouble is, you have to apply to each institution individually and are likely to get different answers from every one.  Help is on the horizon but it is slow in coming.  The TEPL (technology-enhanced professional learning) keynote this week heard a strong plea from the respected professor, Thomas Reeves, that HE learning design should use multiple methods of assessment that would accommodate self-directed learners. Some programmes in which I have had a hand do this but there are not enough out there. Keep asking: the economy is with you!


  1. Gillian

    This post rather elegantly encapsulates what has put me off pursuing further formalised learning.

    I can’t be bothered to jump through the assessment hoops that bear no relation to how I will use the knowledge in real life. How many assessments test creative application and synthesis?

    If I ever find a qualification which accepts my blog as a portfolio, I’ll sign up.


    • And the pity is that people in this position might develop PhD-or-beyond knowledge and expertise and at some future date not be considered for a job because they do not pass somebody’s cv criteria. I guess a blog on its own is going to be a while before anyone accepts it but at post-grad level it is not hard to see how a blog ‘might’ be given a very large proportion of the necessary academic credit for a degree if certain criteria were met e.g. proving development of thought; rigour of data; verifiability; interaction with others in the field. The missing piece academically would be some sort of criteria cross-referencing system – especially at Masters level. PhDs/MPhils should be able to just do a defence as normal. However, all that ignores the little matters of belonging to an institution (culture) and money (that makes the world go round). We’ll get there somehow. Meanwhile: happy blogging and thanks for the thoughts.

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