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Education 2.0 and Beyond

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

“What’s all the talk about Education 2.0? Is Education 1.0 over? Was it ever here? I feel like we’ve been saddled with a beta version for the last 150 years, or so.”

These were my immediate thoughts after reading a March 23, 2012 blog post by Dave Balter, founder of Smarterer.com, a crowdsource credentialing site that is in its beta version. His post was inspired by a 2010 conversation that he had with investor Josh Abramowitz of Deep Creek Capital. Over lunch, Abramowitz regaled Balter with his theories about the end of our traditional higher education system in favor of what Balter would later come to call Education 2.0.

According to Abramowitz, escalating college costs combined with a lack of clear return on that investment and the rise of informal learning and credentialing would eventually lead to a disintegration of the higher education system (Balter, 23 March, 2012). While I don’t believe that the DIY education model will ever completely replace traditional higher education, initiatives like the MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla’s Digital Badges competition, Udacity, the Khan Academy, and many others, do mean that informal education is carving out a place for itself in the “All of the Above” education world. What is Education 2.0 according, how does it affect higher education, and is Education 3.0 on the horizon?

Education 2.0
According to Balter and Abramowitz, there are three primary components of education 2.0 that represent a fundamental break from the current educational establishment. Here are their three game-changers and a look at how they may or may not be the harbingers of Education 2.0.

"The Death of the Textbook"
According to Balter, "Textbooks are too pricey (even used), too outdated and too damn heavy.  Students no longer need the book to get educated.  Apple – always at the forefront of change – recently announced there are more than 20,000 education and learning applications built for the iPad;  Boundless Learning finds content online that’s almost exactly like that in your old Advanced Algebra book (and Bench Prep is helping big publishers like McGraw Hill convert their books to mobile learning courses);  Eleven Learning crowdsources writing textbooks themselves, reducing costs significantly; Classroom Window reviews the tools and technologies to equip teachers with more effective learning programs." (Balter, 23 March, 2012)

"Remixing the curriculum," self-publishing of textbooks, game-based learning, and many other recent innovations have led to major textbook manufacturers beginning to parcel out their content in smaller "remixable" chunks that  educators can pick and choose from in an a-la-carte educational smorgasbord.  Now, while the impending end of the traditional textbook is a significant step forward – making content more fluid, up-to-date, and accessible – it would hardly seem to represent the end of education as we know it. The full implications of digital textbooks will take some time to reach all sectors of education and an even longer time to cross the Digital Divide which will make it very challenging for low-income schools to provide e-readers and universal connectivity to poor students and their families. It simply isn’t a national priority (not that it shouldn’t be), and may not ever become one because of our bootstrap mentality.

"Peer-to-Peer and Self-Education"
"MIT kicked this off with the Open Courseware Project, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.  Now learning is from the people, to the people.  General Assemb.ly taps the experienced to teach the classes we always wanted;  Skillshare helps you develop and launch your own mini university;  Khan Academy (a non-profit!) provides free world-class education to anyone, anywhere;  Flash Notes is a marketplace for buying and selling class notes.  And Codecademy provides an interactive format that lets anyone learn how to code.  In short, we’re teaching each other, redefining the principles of the teacher and the student." (Balter, 23 March, 2012)

DIY education and peer-to-peer informal learning are here to stay. They simply make sense in a connected, always on, digital world. We can now learn almost anything, anywhere, and at any time. This is powerful and is changing the overall culture of how we learn things, but this change is moving very slowly in regards to formal education. Khan Academy allows for teachers to "flip" the classroom and push some of the basic learning burden onto students and their families, but there is a lot of resistance to implementing this model. One drawback is in the difficulty of universal access, but there is also a huge obstacle to come in convincing teachers, and, more so, parents, that this is a model that works. Every parent of a current school age child went through the education 1.0 system, and for most of them, it worked. These folks are going to be resistant to large-scale change to something they are comfortable with, even if the overall societal perception of education is one of dissatisfaction.

"The Connected Resume & Credentialing"
"Not so long ago, our resumes focused on where we worked and where we went to school.  But now our reputations are documented by proof of “social credibility,” like how you answer questions on Quora or the content of your Tumblr blog.  This social credibility can be expressed via sites like Identified Branchout or Bullhorn Reach, who help you find jobs based on your social network connections." (Balter, 23 March, 2012)

This point goes to the heart of the tension between education 1.0 and 2.0. The old model relies almost exclusively on traditional education and formal credentialing via a diploma or degree.  Interestingly, considering that the conversation between Abramowitz and Balter happened in 2010, it does not even mention the idea of digital badges as a means of representing credentials obtained through informal channels. Badges, as well as the sources mentioned above pose a real challenge to the status quo of the university degree and the resume, but there is going to be a major struggle before this aspect of Education 2.0 becomes accepted in the mainstream. The issue of credibility in the accreditation process will need to be addressed. With the possibility of credentials coming from an expanded field of providers, including informal or non-traditional ones, there will need to be some formalized criteria for the types of proof of competency required for employers to risk considerable time and money on someone based on their social media presence or number of badges. 

On the whole, it seems like these three possibilities alone won’t be enough to force a move to a new system of education that could be called Education 2.0. No need to despair though. Another possibility is on the horizon that might shoot us straight past 2.0 and on to Education 3.0.

Education 3.0: All of the Above Education
There can be little doubt that our education system is in a state of crisis or near crisis. Things have gotten so bad that a recently released report, U.S. Education Reform and National Security by the Council on Foreign Relations task force headed by Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice found that there are shortages of qualified individuals for industry, military service, and other areas of importance to national security (Marquis, 3 April, 2012). The shortcomings in education that have led to these issues will not be solved by electronic textbooks, peer-to-peer education, or connected resumes. A much more radical approach to reforming education is needed.

I recently proposed a national "All of the Above" education plan modeled on President Obama’s energy policy which looks to research and invest in every possible source to help overcome the global energy crisis that could provide a model for Education 3.0. Here’s the thumbnail:

"This means investing in everything from pre-K education and familial outreach, to school infrastructure, teacher training, informal education startups, private K-12 schools, universities, and for-profit career colleges, as well as in new and innovative technologies for learning like video games, the Khan Academy, Udacity, and establishing a national policy for ubiquitous Wi-Fi access and computers for every child."
(Marquis, 17 April, 2012)

Whether it is called 2.0, 3.0, or something completely different, change is coming to education at all levels and we need to take steps to coordinate these changes before they arrive so that we will be able to manage and direct it in the most productive way. Understanding the potential changes is the first step in taking control of the process.

Join the #Edu2.0 vs. #Edu3.0 debate on Twitter @drjwmarquis

Image: Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net