I have previously expressed some ideas about the value of higher education and how, at least for the less research intensive institutes, it is moving away from content and knowledge, and towards guidance and accreditation. However a few separate experiences this week have lead me to start thinking slightly differently about the future and value of higher education.
It all started with my enrolment on the connectivism course that is being prepared by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. I think it was Stephen who made the case for assessment to be individual. After all learners come to a course or activity with individual goals and ambitions, and so it doesn't really make sense that they would be assessed in the same way. While this doesn't invalidate the importance of assessment and accreditation, it does question the validity of having predefined outcomes and criteria for these perhaps.
over coffee this morning I had a discussion with a colleague, who was explaining to me the importance of the community of practice, and how we needed to find a way to make learners part of a community of practice before and after their actual enrollment on a module or course. He made a very strong case for what should be a major benefit of doing a course with the University: Joining a community of peers and experts. Very consistent with Stephen's ideas I thought.
Then this afternoon, while I was wrestling the backlog in my GReader, I stumbled on a piece on the value of social networks by Engeström (via Grainne's blog) which again confirmed this notion. Basically Engeström explains that a relation, and thus a network, only has value as a result of the object that this relation is built on. In Flickr these are pictures, in Delicious they are bookmarks. Similarly in education, these could be courses or subjects, just like my colleague was proposing with the communities of practice.
And so maybe the value of HE is not primarily around accreditation. Perhaps the most important value we can offer is the organisation and support of learning networks around subjects of interest. In that case, we have a lot of work to do...