Reimagining both learning & learning institutions

Over the course of the 2008-09 school year, colleagues and I at WSU were thinking about institution-based vs community-based learning models. A strong sample of that work is in our AAC&U presentation from April 2009. There are two charts that are important to our thinking, Learning Spectrum and Four Strategies. We think that changing to a community-based model will have an impact on how the university is organized.

This year we got involved with the MacArthur Foundation/HASTAC Digital Media and Learning Competition as a result of looking for colleagues interested in ideas that could transform the university (and the Land Grant mission) in line with the thinking above (see our DML entry).

Yesterday I ran into two related ideas that bring me back to thinking about these topics.

Chris Hughes (co-founder of Facebook) is launching Jumo, The site says:

“There are no magic solutions to the challenges our world faces. But there are millions of people around the globe who work each day to improve the lives of others. Unfortunately, there are millions more who don’t know how to meaningfully help [emphasis mine].

Jumo brings together everyday individuals and organizations to speed the pace of global change.”

Perhaps thinking along parallel lines, Jane McGonigal’s TED talk: “Gaming can make a better world explored the idea that some of the traits gamers exhibit, including collaboration and a passion for the quest, could be tapped to work on some of the world’s problems. She ended by pointing to a game called Evoke that is trying to explore that hypothesis.

Evoke encourages players to develop these skills: collaboration, courage, creativity, entrepreneurship, local insight, knowledge share, resourcefulness, sustainability and vision. Its a list that has more in common with ideas of Daniel Pink or the 21st century media literacies of Howard Rheingold than 20th century efforts like WSU’s Critical Thinking Rubric (not to fault it, but it comes from a Learning 1.0 context). I recognize Evoke’s list of skills in our thinking above about a transformed university.

Those ideas are even more interesting in light of Tom Vander Ark‘s comments in November 2009 on How Social Networking Will Transform Learning:

I’m betting on social learning platforms as a lever for improvement at scale in education. Instead of a classroom as the primary organizing principle, social networks will become the primary building block of learning communities (both formal and informal). Smart recommendation engines will queue personalized content. Tutoring, training, and collaboration tools will be applications that run on social networks. New schools will be formed around these capabilities. Teachers in existing schools will adopt free tools yielding viral, bureaucracy-cutting productivity improvement.”

Vander Ark was Executive Director at the Gates Foundation and now he’s a partner in a private equity fund focused on innovative learning tools and formats. At the Gates Foundation he undoubtedly had a role in funding Gates’ bets on improving education, including strategies he lists based on people, schools, policy and community. Now he says he’s betting on a different strategy,  one that seems to align with the projects and ideas outlined above.

For awhile I’ve been stuck thinking about how these community-based learning could advance without leadership, or at least cooperation, from the university. I thought the university was a key player because it holds the ability to credential higher learning. And that credentialing power seemed to lock it into a dominant place in the marketplace.

Recently, I came across an argument that some learners may not care about  earning university credentials. The example was a person who owns a business and wants some business training (accounting, management, etc). For this person, the knowledge may be valuable, but the credential inconsequential.

That opened me up to see other alternatives to credentialing. The Evoke game promises to identify top players, based on the skills they demonstrate. For this week Evoke says: “Your LEARN mission this week is to figure out: Who else is inventing creative, sustainable ways to power our everyday lives? Find someone working on a creative electricity project, or a sustainable energy project — and tell the network about their big idea.”

This is all building toward the 10th week when participants will submit an “Evocation” (think of this as a thesis proposal): “Based on the Evokation you submit, and your overall participation in the Evoke network missions, quests, and discussions, we will choose a number of you to continue the journey with us and change the world in unimaginable ways. Selection includes winning a $1000 investment in the project among other “credentialling.”

Evoke’s funding comes from the World Bank. Another funding model might be micro-lending. Kushal Chakrabarti, CEO, Vittana recently posted about Vittana’s new venture into micro-lending for student education loans.

Could these ideas be combined? Could they offer a different path to education for some learners, bypassing the university’s credentialing?

All images thanks to Jayme Jacobson

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2 Responses to “Reimagining both learning & learning institutions”

  1. SC Spaeth Says:

    You write, “This is all building toward the 10th week when participants will submit an “Evocation” (think of this as a thesis proposal)”

    Instead of a thesis proposal, I think it may be more accurate to think of it more like the business plan competitions that students in business programs enter. But this one focuses on Social Innovation rather than business innovation.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_innovation

    Various institutions are sponsoring these kinds of competition, e. g. Dell sponsors the Dell Social Innovation Competition:

    “The Dell Social Innovation Competition operates like a business-plan competition, awarding seed funding directly to the student-led venture that best meets the judges’ criteria.”
    http://www.dellsocialinnovationcompetition.com/HowItWorks

    The Dell site identifies university students as the primary audience.

    “In universities around the world, students like you explore countless ideas every day, including solutions to tackle social problems — and help people in need reach their fullest potential. If you have a world-changing idea, the University of Texas and Dell want you to share it by entering The Dell Social Innovation Competition.”

    I would hope that the quality of the ideas and strength of the proposal would count more than affiliation with institutions. And some students who choose to participate in such competitions conclude the experience is the most valuable part of their learning.

  2. nils_peterson Says:

    Here is an example of redesigning a program to deviler same-or-better student learning outcomes at half the cost http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/03/25/bassis Michael Bassis, President, Westminster College

    “I pulled together a team from our school of business and told them that the goal was to develop an undergraduate degree completion program in business that produced more and better learning at half the cost of our traditional program. ”

    “After more than a year, the group had developed what we now describe as a low-residency, project- and competency-based program. Here students don’t take courses or earn grades. The requirements for the degree are for students to complete a series of projects, captured in an electronic portfolio, that mirror core activities in the business world. ”

    “My institution will continue to experiment with different instructional designs until we find approaches that work for us. But I suspect we won’t have the luxury of time. There are enough for-profit and not-for-profit institutions that are quickly putting the pieces together to be in a position to mass-market multiple high-quality, low-cost degree programs that students of all types will find enormously attractive.”

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