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Will there be a time when knowledge gained through self-learning be as accepted as degrees through colleges and universities are now?

With so much information immediately available through the internet and other sources, one can become an expert or even just generally knowledgeable. Putting aside the money and resistance from current institutions, could in the future, education be gained through natural curiousity and self learning? Maybe much of the data we current "learn" could be stored in a small interactive pocket "brain" or whatever some clever individual may come up with for a name. When needed, we just inquiry and respond.

This question is intented to go to the heart of learning and the "proof", a degree, certificate, etc, that we have mastered those learning events.

Does anyone believe there could be a grand restructuring of education and the 'proof" of it sometime in the not to distant future?

  • Jul 18 2013: In Industry, results count more than degrees. The problem is the individual needs to work to get into a position where they can display the results. I have hired and promoted techs to programmers and engineers when they have shown they can do the work. they have to learn the theory but usually, their experience has introduced them to the theory and they have asked questions about the theory.

    Also, you can take the bar exam with a degree in law or even an undergraduate degree. you have to intern at a law office and have the recommendation of lawyers. This used to be the normal way to get ready for the bar but has been used a lot less.
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    Jul 16 2013: Depends. I prefer to know that the bridge I'm crossing and the airplane I'm flying in were built by degreed engineers.
    If you're a poet, having an MFA - or even a high school diploma - means zip.
    • Jul 18 2013: Hate to say this but i know some engineers with degrees and lic. that I would not trust to build a tinker toy. - 8>))
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    Jul 8 2013: The only way investors, employers customers will trust (what you know), is by (repeated demonstration of competence).
    It doesn't necessarily have to be an exam, diploma, or degree. All they want to know, is if they hire you, or invest in you, is there a way to measure the (probability) that they're going to get a return on their investment. Find a way to demonstrate that to that group of customers, or investors, and you've just given yourself all the credit / credibility you need my friend. You'll be well on your way to riches. The examples are strewn across the landscape of entrepreneur land, and yacht clubs of the world. You must demonstrate tenacity, innovation, and profit potential clearly, Just paint them a pretty picture of money, happiness and satisfaction.
  • Jul 7 2013: First of all, I am very glad that there is a thread on Ted about this topic. I have recently co-founded an online education company helping fellow self-learners, so this is very dear to my heart.

    My thoughts:

    1) knowledge gained through self-learning eventually will be as accepted not as a degree but as another credential for employment. It will take a long term. Just like women got treated more equally because top male executives wanted their daughters to be treated equally. So cultural/perception change will take multiple generations. The current generation who still went to good colleges but have to keep up via self learning will treat self-learners differently when the current generation become the top executives.

    2) while I agree people can learn by attending schools and professors, research has shown what really matters is how much time/efforts one puts into learning/studying. A driven person who is learning him/herself should learn/attain much more knowledge/skill than someone who isn't driven but attend schools.

    3) one main reason that organizations look at a degree is because they don't know how to interview/hire, so they use degrees as a convenient filter. With the world becoming more competitive (not necessarily a good thing), people will have to become (at least I hope) more accountable. When that happens, maybe skills (not degree) will be more valued and maybe more emphasis will be put on hiring managers to hire people who are capable at delivering.

    Just my 2 cents. BTW, I have a great degree, so at least I am not saying this because of any sour grape feeling.

    Again, thanks for giving me the opportunity to participate in this conversation. Regardless if one has a degree or not, one should continue learning through self learning.
    Michelle, co-founder of RedHoop
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    Jul 6 2013: unlikely. universities are not about knowledge. traditionally, they are about keeping knowledge. think of the sneetches with stars upon thars and you're getting close. they are elite clubs.

    just having easily accessible information on the internet doesn't make it useful or robust. 99% of the internet is about convenience and nothing else.

    i don't see it happening but then, why do people care so much about university qualifications? i don't think they are much more than an expensive key to the clubrooms..
  • Jul 6 2013: Something's gotta give ...
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    Jul 5 2013: It used to be until Governments monopolized Education.
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      Jul 8 2013: Banks, profit driven schools,and colleges monetized the process. Then they manipulate congress to funnel tax dollars to their institutions for research by direct subsidies. They turn around incestuously, and double dip by raping students with high private interest rates they'll never pay off, Thanks to the Tea Party interest rates on government student loans just doubled, right at a time when students are hurting the most . "Way to go boys and girls". Government loans "yes", but all the corrupt congress is doing is transferring the cost of building industry to the tax payers and children. There is a good solution to the problem. Stop giving tax breaks to multi billionaire,s and their families! Stop building dynastic wealth. End the (carried interest provision), increase the inheritance taxes allowing for ample protection of dependents say half million to a million per child, substantially more for disabled children /dependents. Government is neither (good nor bad) it's just a tool, a vehicle for manipulating social behavior in one direction or another for those who are brave enough strong enough and smart enough to take control of it.
  • Jul 5 2013: I do not think so, except for an honorary degree.

    A diploma or degree represents a few things that I do not believe you can capture with pure self-study. First, the mix of subjects in a curriculum, the order these subjects are taken, and the level of proficiency required in each subject needs to meet a minimum acceptable level as determined by the organizations accrediting the school and the programs. Educational accreditation is a type of quality assurance process under which services and operations of educational institutions or programs are evaluated by an external body to determine if applicable standards are met. If standards are met, accredited status is granted by the agency (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_accreditation). Allowing curriculum decisions to be made by the student would require the university to somehow review and substantiate the body of work done by the student was greater than or equal to the curriculum offered by the school such that they were willing to risk their accreditation, subject by subject and collectively for a particular degree. This would be both very expensive and daunting for the professors charged with the review when you consider the number of students.

    One of the things missed by self-study is the expert filtering of information and indirect mentoring offered by professors. The amount of time spent on each topic, the topics to be covered in a course, the books to be used, the assignments most appropriate for learning, etc. all represent the result of experts filtering the huge body of information available and tailoring it to the needs of the student in that curriculum. This requires an expert in the subject to go back and think how most effectively to present it and keep it current. A self-taught person can't filter material effectively.

    There is a place for independent study in most curriculums and it may yield the greatest rewards, but structure and mentorship are still needed for balanced advanced study.
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      Jul 5 2013: I agree, Robert, that people often undervalue the benefit in terms of learning and gaining mastery at the university level of guidance, supervised authentic and challenging practice, and interaction with subject matter experts. I predict that those who recognize these advantages in terms of learning and continue to seek such an education will have a distinct advantage in competency and understanding over those who do not. The difference will show in practice.
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    Jul 5 2013: Just as Coursera is starting to provide verification of good understanding of course material on the basis of good performance on a proctored exam, I expect that such tests will be accepted more broadly to verify good understanding of some subjects from independent learning.

    In some cases you can demonstrate competency by what you have done, not by asserting you have studied something but by showing your having applied the material competently in problem-solving. When someone says, "I have studied this independently for thirty years," people who need someone competent in the field won't just take it on faith that the person actually gets it.

    I don't think just having consumed lots of online information will be of great value, precisely because it is readily available online. What would be valuable would be the understanding of that content and the ability to use it in practical situations.