In case any of Mister Gates’ lawyers are reading this, the above headline is a deliberately overstated paraphrasing (it’s how we write on the intertubes, y’know). But the nugget of truth is there: Ol’ Bill spoke at the Technonomy conference last week, and suggested that in another five years or so, more people will be studying online than in universities and colleges [via SlashDot].
I presume he means colleges and universities in the US, though I’d suggest that “first world” nations like the US and the UK will actually have the slowest rate of take-up for online study, as university attendance has the weight and kudos of long tradition to prop it up. But as distrust of the higher and further education systems grows, and more and more new graduates come to realise they’ve put themselves deep into the debt hole for a piece of paper that makes little or no difference to their employment prospects, a shift to what we might call “entrepreneurial learning” is pretty inevitable. Take me as an example: I build websites for a living, but have never had so much as a minute of formal tuition or education in the field; I just googled my way into it, found out what I needed to know as I needed to know it.
But the more important factor here is motivation: as the cost of formal education soars, people will think more carefully about why they’re studying. A degree is much less a means to an end than it used to be, and much as I’ve repeatedly considered doing a degree by distance learning, it’s for the satisfaction of the accomplishment rather than any illusion that my employability would be significantly enhanced. Hence “entrepreneurial learning”: skills and conceptual frameworks acquired with purpose in response to direct needs, rather than abstract knowledge sets accumulated toward a set of targets that may well have no equivalent in the employment marketplace.
The bad side to this, of course, is the lack of clear metrics for employers as to what a potential employee knows. But from anecdotal evidence that’s as least as old as I am, that’s been a problem with the existing system for some time. Perhaps we’ll see a return to competency testing in job interviews? The rise of a sort of zaibatsu-apprenticeship system? A greater percentage of freelance workers in a greater range of industries?
5 thoughts on “Bill Gates sez: screw university, study online”
“for a piece of paper that makes little or no difference to their employment prospects”
I wish this were true. In good times, experience counts more than education. But the least little stress on the economy and suddenly you cannot get past HR to get an interview without the right paper from the right places.
It’s too bad, in my experience University graduates tend to perform poorly compared to someone that has the same number of years of training but on the job.
While this may be true for a few professions (generally creative or humanistic stuff like graphic design or journalism), for many it will not happen at all. There’s no way your accountant is going to be self-trained. I actually think credentials are more important than ever with some of the fierce competition you get out there. Hell, people don’t even phone you if your name sounds wrong.
Oh, and in some parts of the world you actually get job ads where they state that if you aren’t from a particular university, you shouldn’t bother applying. Then you get stuff like all the Chinese students coming to Canada for the cache of the degree, because it’s seen as “better” than their native educational institutions. So they’ll shell whatever it takes for a piece of paper from University X.
I think your conclusion is right, but the reasoning is wrong: unis in the developed world offer significant social benefits that online study can’t give, aside from the access to one-on-one help from experts (or “experts”, depending!). Reasonably well-to-do Westerners are going to be attracted to the drink plentifully, sleep late and argue with the tutor lifestyle for a while yet, I think!
Well, I live in Canada and I would love, love to plunk money down and get my masters. I really do. But I work full-time and there is not a single communications long-distance, semi-distance or late-night/part-time masters program in Vancouver for me. Masters degrees are, apparently, not thought out for working people.
In comparison, my father has a doctorate. In Mexico City, there’s more than one Masters for working professionals. Here, it seems like I ought to court the admissions officer and sell one of my kids to go to school. The lack of long distance programs for us older students is baffling.
So it’s not only the cost, it’s the notion that I should at my age drop my full-time job and go study from 9 am to 3 Monday to Friday, which might have worked 30 years ago, but doesn’t work now. It doesn’t fit my lifestyle. If universities were smarter, they’d offer more programs for folks like us.
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