“…When the processes of formal training and assessment separate, institutionalised learning will be in crisis…”

Stephen Downes in a conversation with TANZ CEOs in Christchurch, September 21.

A scenario to help explain:

  • In the interests of quality assurance, builders in New Zealand are soon to be required to hold a certificate, however there is a shortage of builders in many areas of NZ.
  • To fast track certification and to ensure numbers of builders continue to be available, training organisations and builders associations will set up Recognition of Prior Learning and some training opportunities where needed.
  • If done well, the RPL process will become a fast track, cheaper option for certification. It is likely that smaller organisations will set up and sustain themselves solely on the provision of assessment for RPL, while others will focus on specific, just in time training.
  • This will create more options for people requiring certification and or training.
  • Industry will welcome shorter and/or more flexible training and certification opportunities, preferring work place training and assessment that is customised to their needs.
  • Secondary schools will start to align curriculum with these smaller providers and student income subsidies may begin to recognise these arrangements and extend their support to include study with these agencies.
  • Training and education institutions, heavy with a wide variety of both viable and non viable courses, and no longer enjoying exclusive recognition from student income subsidies, start to struggle under their inefficient size and processes.
  • Here is were the crisis begins…

I’m not too sure how sound or desirable such a scenario is, but there is plenty of evidence to say this is well under way already. It is basically a huge decentralisation of training and education.

The best response in my view is for the institutions themselves to decentralise in some way, and what follows is how I think that can best occur.

It just so happens that the long held and increasingly popular apprenticeship model is quite complimentary to this need to decentralise. Complimentary to the apprenticeship model is networked learning. On the one hand is an efficient, demonstrate and practice, mentor learning structure, while on the other is the enablement of an independent, informed and networked learner. Let me paint a picture:

Imagine if your institution allowed for more individualism. Your answer might be something like, “…Otago Polytechnic works for me…” rather than “.. I work for Otago Polytechnic..” A place where the brand, the infrastructure, the management and hiearchy, and the assets were in some way answerable or subsumed to the individuals who work from the organisation as a base.

The individual teacher would be out from under the umbrella of the organisation as a whole, and made more responsible for their own actions – or lack there of – while the organisation and its hiearchy is set up to support the development of that individualism in its teachers. Teachers would be expected (but not required) to establish and maintain a presence, a portfolio so to speak, always up to date – up to the second, with the work they are doing, their research, their ideas and thinking, their experiments, their teaching, and their communications with professional networks. A blog could be one way, but I didn’t say that… individuals from around the world can attached to the organisation by way of endorsement from the organisation for their work. They would have the opportunity to benefit from its support in negotiable terms. While the organisation benefits from a more flexible, individually responsible, diverse work force.

The important point is that the organisation becomes far less centralised and less identifiable en-mass or as a whole. It is more clearly identified by the individuals that grow from its base. It is made up of many individuals with explicit directions, expertise, interests etc, while the organisation is geared to support those individuals with professional development, admin, promotions, development funding and the like.

One more scenario:

  • Roy is a lecturer in cooking within a training institution called Tekotago.
  • Much needed mature and focused cooking students are taking advantage of alternative training and assessment options, leaving only the less mature and less focused students in his classes who need the others
  • This trend is undermining the quality of the Tony’s training and affecting his motivation.
  • Tony, along with around 30% of the institution’s lecturers has decided to develop a public profile as a cooking expert and teacher and help the Institution to decentralise.
  • He is given ownership of his intellectual property, independence from the organisational hiearchy, support in terms of admin, pay, infrastructure, development budget and the like, but is now more responsible for the quality of his over all work.
  • Tony is less restricted by the organisation, and is able to work independently, proactively and responsively to the training needs and trends of his potential students.
  • He is identified as Roy the Cooking teacher endorsed by Tekotago rather than simply a teacher at Tekotago
  • He remains with the organisation for the support in admin, more secure income, professional development opportunities, and access to development funds, but he is free to become totally independent should he choose.

Of course the questions flap in the wind… what is to become of the teacher who prefers the shelter of the organisation… they way I see it, both can exist – for now.


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