Education, Training and Lifelong Learning

Over the week, I tweeted a link to a post by James Gardner, CTO at the Department for Work and Pensions, who was sighing about That higher degree and questioning the value of taking one for career advancement purposes:

When people look at CVs, they don’t usually care all that much about the education, so long as there are signs there is some. They only care about what you’ve already done in your career to that point. Anyone can get a degree, after all, even a higher one.

Finding alternatives to traditional formal educational qualifications is something I’ve been mulling over on and off for a couple of years, (e.g. Time to Build Trust With an “Open Achievements API”?), though it has to be said not in very much detail.

As a waypoint in the (lack of?!) evolution of my thinking around the hinterland of this issue, here’s something I posted a couple of weeks or so ago to a departmental First Class conference. The original reason for posting was to have a little rant about the “training vs. education” debate:

I drank the lifelong learning Kool Aid a long time ago; no way could I do a formal education course now, and I’m not sure that a formal training course would cut it for me either. But pretty much every day I pick up either a new practical skill or an abstract concept or something that I could imagine someone packaging in either a training course or an OU course.

Most universities focus on a 2-4 year relationship with their students, discounting the Development and Alumni Offices who maintain an occasional interaction (until their actuarial models suggest you’re going to die, when I suspect they up the number of interactions and requests to be remembered in any legacies that are in the offing.)

In the OU we kid ourselves that the relationship we have with students is typically a 4-8 year one (denying the numbers who take singleton courses and have no intention of doing a degree, who simply chose a course out for interest, for professional development *or* for training, and with whom we only have a 3-9 month relationship).

Now go back to trad universities, where banks traditionally hit on freshers looking for a lifelong commitment (though admittedly that often resulted from inertia, once committed, on the part of the student, and the relative difficulty of changing bank accounts (which is not as hard now as it used to be…)) We’ve just announced we’ll be rolling out Google Apps for Education to OU students . Why do you think Google wants this sort of deal? Same reason as the banks, though in this case Google are out to secure a personalised, long term advertising delivery channel straight to your inbox.

How many institutions offer a lifelong learning relationship with their students? Folk need to learn stuff and learn how to do stuff. They may need educating or they may need training. I suspect for most punters those two things (training and education) are synonymous. I have always thought that part of th OU’s proposition was our ability to support open learning; we are uniquely placed to offer a lifelong learning relationship to our students. Not 9 months or 6 years. Life long. This might be through a one off purchase model (cf. buying courses), bulk purchase model (degree/sum of courses model), a subscription model to a particular topic or thematic area, or a club/membership model where you can graze.

Strategically, the OU has been looking in part at freemium models. But why limit ourselves to upselling from free and open content? Why not do the “training” bit that everyone seems to hold in such low esteem, and then upsell to our “proper” “education” products?

Or not…

PS I feel a little bit twitchy about posting this, and I’m not sure why…? Should I have left it behind the firewall…?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

6 thoughts on “Education, Training and Lifelong Learning”

  1. I actually think you are hitting the nail on the head. I was recently visited by an alumni relations person of the university I attended. I was not interested in all the reunion kerfuffle. I was interested in my own learning and my curiosity about what my institution was leading on in terms of learning – both in a particular field and in general.

    My financial relationship with said institution could be far richer as both a small but ongoing donor to particular programs I value (which have been usually underdog programs) and how we could play an ongoing learning relationship with each other.

    Note that I said “WITH” each other. I don’t see them exclusively as a supplier of learning opportunities (or training, or whatever), but as a learning partner. I could contribute. I could re-license and reuse.. I think there are many mutually rewarding options, if only we think beyond the traditional model.

  2. As Nancy says, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. Thinking beyond the traditional model is sorely needed.

  3. You’ve got the most important thing dead on — the path to not dying an agonizing institutional death is to recognize you are about your relationship with your customers, not about arcane definitions about what your product is. And if your customers don’t see a difference between training and education, it’s a good indication OU shouldn’t see a distinction there either.

    As state education in the U.S. begins to implode, I’ve been thinking about a lot of these things myself. I think part of the problem is that short term thinking in terms of 4-year education makes economic sense. It’s the bread and butter — it gets you thousands of hours of course reqs to get one degree.

    But long term what we have to go to is a sort of “merit badge” approach (idea stolen from Schank: like a boy scout gets a merit badge that says, hey look, I can build a fire). You’ll go to a set of three or so classes and at the end you’ll get certification that you can do something: write a clear narrative, program basic stuff in python, deconstruct a Bruce Willis film, analyze DNA for specific markers, philosophize about ethics. The certifications would be big enough that you wouldn’t have thousands of merit badges, but small enough to be meaningful.

    The classes would also be designed so that those with life experience could test out easily at a pro-rated instruction cost.

    The nice thing about this model is that you can get there with minor modifications — clustering some classes together…degrees can still happen, but there are little mini degrees along the way… you take one class and you are one third of the way through a mini-degree merit badge — you finish that three course mini degree, and you only have to get 9 more mini-degrees to get a full degree… just a thought….

  4. Great points. I see the OU as opening up new opportunities and experiences to people through the knowledge, skills and experience they gain from us. I see us as mentors that personalise the educational experience to whoever we teach.

    New tech makes this easier but never replaces the essentially human aspects of mentoring. Most people are happy to pay for the best mentors/coaches/teachers whichever label you use.

    You’re right that we should not be shy about promoting our abilities and how much we do to create quality in what we do. I think we need to constantly make things easier for learners and teachers easier to give each other what they need. That means constant innovation in the process and practice of delivery.

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