There is no question the online education space is booming. It is the talk of the town in Silicon Valley, was a focal point at Davos, and, we’re calling it now, will be the hot topic at SXSW in March. Tech Crunch seems to agree with a recent article titled “Online Education is Replacing Physical Colleges at a Crazy Fast Pace“.
While most of the activity is focused on how our traditional opportunities for schooling are moving online, there has yet to be a bigger discussion around what it truly means to lower the bar to gaining a “college degree” which is essentially just a stamp of approval from that particular institution. In the end, this type of validation is only as good as the name behind it (kind of like our greenbacks) and the scarcity of it.
While the brand name institutions like Stanford and MIT will no doubt vigorously defend their reputation, even those with a slightly lower but still high quality profile like USC are starting to offer online equivalents of their traditional schooling with the same admissions criteria and the same fees. This level of cost and screening solves for quality, but it does not necessarily address the scale issue as it will be very tempting to let in a greater number of students when technology from companies like 2U make it easy. And, outside of major degree institutions there are more and more online schools opening each year that offer different, low bar pathways to a degree.
All of this makes me think that we are going to be moving toward a new model of “skill validation” in the future, also facilitated by technology. Most young people today know that the value of your social graph often matters as much or more than your degree during a job search, particularly in this economy. Rather than relying on an institution to provide credibility and access, it is going to be more the responsibility of each individual to take charge of our learning, build our networks and validate each other’s skills. In some ways we are moving back toward a small town world where the reference of a friend matters most, it is just this small town now spans the world, facilitated by social graphs like LinkedIn and Facebook.
Case in point, I turned down the opportunity to attend an Ivy league school in favor of the chance to study journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, what is considered by most to be the best journalism school out there but clearly does not provide streamlined access into any significant network of contacts outside of the journalism. Many years later I now consider myself fortunate to have a wonderful network of talented, successful people all earned through my own outreach and relationship development and am still very pleased with the quality of education I received.
I like the idea of bringing back this small town feel, but we need to be prepared for it. The sooner you recognize the power of your networks, the better position you will be in to capitalize on it.
~ Ingrid Sanders, co-founder & ceo, popexpert