Sunday, September 26, 2010

On Informal Learning, Joi Ito, Teenage Boys and Nostalgia

"The focus on education and accreditation instead of learning is something we need to change."
Joi Ito--entreprenuer, dropout, thought leader--has at least one reason to care about the fate of the university:  his sister Mimi is a distinguished cultural anthropologist at USC, a theorist of how teens use new media in the US and Japan.  In the video interview I link to above, Joi lays out a powerful case for the rise of the informal learner.

Joi doesn't feel the love for Tufts, the Univ. of Chicago (both of which he left without degree) or other institutions of formal learning that presume the university remains the best way to gather thinkers and distribute research.  Joi is not so much an advocate for informal learning as a bright exponent of it.  He did it twenty years ago.  Today, it's easier for informal learners to operate entirely project-based, acquiring the skills, community and knowledge particular to their goals.  The most interesting undergraduate classes I'm following on the Web, for example, are the ones that appropriate DIY skill and zeal.  Ironic, eh?  That the most "cutting edge" courses at the university emulate the informal learners' MO, urgency and skills?

What does the rise of the informal learner mean for the university beyond "fasten your seatbelts.  It's going to be a bumpy night"?

Learners are going to be impatient of requirements they don't see as directly contributive to their knowledge goals, especially when those requirements cost a lot of time and money.  Their parents may or may not be similarly impatient.  It depends on how vested they are in the university that opened its iron gates to their own knowledge and careers.

What sort of people will continue to value the university's judgments, its intricate system of sorting and filtering the quality of student performance?  Will employers always insist on university credentials if informal learners like Jio Ito short circuit the process:  the 4-yrs-long process that is an eternity in communities of practice? 

I still believe in the university, perhaps out of nostalgia and loyalty to the enormously transformative effect it had on my life.

The university put its stamp on me:  BA, MA, Ph.D. Lecturer, Sr. Lecturer, Assoc. Prof: so many degrees like a line of Chinese chops marking ownership and provenance. On me.

Today, as I prepare some bookmarks on Diigo and edit video to collaborate on a service learning project with four teenage boys--all of whom know more about filmmaking than I do, though I am the "teacher"--I doubt these guys will need the university as I did.  They might look to the university for a kind of education it is ill-equipped, as yet, to provide.

I hope this is not the case.   That the university rises to meet them.  Lets them learn at the pace they expect.  Listens to what they know.  Forgives me my fragments, for I have sinned.  Changes quickly before the 4 boys are gone, gone, gone.

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