Higher education…higher than what?

April 8, 2010

David Shoemaker, eCornell, highlights a higher ed blog post about the imminent unbundling of courses from curriculum both from colleges offering degrees and entities that do not offer degrees. Unbundling meaning:

…the notion that students could cobble together a curriculum that includes courses designed and delivered by a variety of different institutions …
– Steve Kolowich

Unbundling is nothing new to those of us in corporate L&D. In my mind it’s one traditional differentiator between higher education and corporate education. You might have a curriculum or a learning plan in corporate education but you’re not setting out to complete a bundled group of courses so you can get a degree at a specific university (usually within a specific time period). Corporate education tends to be a career long series of unbundled experiences.

By way of background, I had lunch with David a couple of weeks ago in Ithaca, NY, the home of Cornell University and eCornell which is wholly owned by the university. eCornell provides online learning for professional and executive development. Their designers team with faculty from Cornell colleges who create the courses and often participate in the delivery of the courses. (eCornell’s blog is a good one to read it you’re interested in links to news that often straddles corporate education and higher education.)

Moving along…the catalyst for David’s post was Steve Kolowich’s The Specialists written for Inside Higher Ed. The  comments under Steve’s post touch on several volatile topics such as training vs. education, “real” college degrees, online vs. classroom interaction, quality of online education, and others.

Steve wonders if the “bundled” model of higher education is outdated. Based on what I read from early adopters – and my own experiences – I’d say it’s more outdated than not.

“As it has with industries from music to news, the logic of digital technology will compel institutions to specialize and collaborate, find economies of scale and avoid duplications,” – journalist Anya Kamenetz

Steve writes about relics. I would fit Steve Kolowich’s definition of a relic because I’m enrolled in an academic program at a single university.However, I wouldn’t define myself as a relic because I blend my academic program with my “unbundled” personal learning experiences here on the web (which, BTW, often cause me to sit back and ponder why).  Relic or hypocrite…verdict still out with the latter gaining strength with every post I write about online education.

Again with the moving along…the thing that stands out to me  in Kolowich’s post is the quality and rigor concern (of online commercial courses vs. courses charging tuition at traditional institutions).

Michelle Everson, a lecturer at the University of Minnesota who also serves as a consultant and an instructor for Statistics.com, says there is, pound for pound, no difference in rigor between Statistics.com’s introductory courses and the ones Minnesota offers as part of its curriculum. She teaches both.

The gist of the post is the value in specializing. You can pick the highest value online education in a specific topic through the wonderful thing we call technology. This can be a boon for corporate education – more specialized courses in the commercial market can provide employees with more high-quality experiences.

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