De-institutionalizing education

In October 2009 I had the chance to be one of the participants that took part into the Open EdTech Summit 2009: Exploring Learning Solutions Together.

The aim of the event was to reflect on the future of education. To do so, a hypothetical assignment was put onto the participants: to create, from scratch, a brand new university for an imaginary country. There were only four conditions to that assignment:

  1. Access to high-quality education should be available to all, and open content is a key part of providing such access.
  2. Informal learning and mentoring are effective and well-proven approaches to engaging with youth and stimulating critical thought.
  3. Personalized learning is critical to student success, but will require learning standards that allow students to continue their learning where ever life takes them.
  4. Tools such as digital video, mobile devices, social media, and the global network all have important roles in learning and should be available to all learners.

The results, a Call to Action, identified five major tasks that are perceived as critical to meeting the needs of students, namely:

  1. We must encourage the reuse and remixing of rich media.
  2. We must embrace the full promise of mobile devices as learning platforms.
  3. We must award credentials based on learning outcomes.
  4. We must enable a culture of sharing.
  5. We must take care that open resources include the context that will enable their use and understanding.

Though I subscribe to the aforementioned points — I was there and I really do —, some shades of meaning have escaped this necessary but short summary of the debates that took place (formally or informally) during two days.

This manifest call to openness (remixing, mobility, outcomes, sharing, context…) is, as far as I can remember — and always according to my own feelings and opinion — a call to de-institutionalization. In general, I perceived (and still do) three main philosophical shifts or movements:

  • A possibility to detach content from the container: the digital revolution has made possible to separate books (paper) from what it’s told in them. Unbundling opens a new way to understand content and knowledge. But, this unbundling also applies to knowledge holders per excellence: teachers. Digitizing is to books what telecommunications are to people: everyone’s knowledge is at a click’s range. Thus, why should I stick to a bunch of people (i.e. Faculty)?
  • A claim to detach learning from institutions: if content can now be found (and retrieved and copied) from anywhere, and if we can get rid of a closed, limited, selected group of individuals, why stick to their “holder”, the institution? If there is abundance of content and knowledgeable people, how do universities, schools, libraries, etc. still make sense?
  • An effort to detach the object from the supporting structure: but it’s not only about content and people and institutions. Why (oh, why on Earth) should a specific institution give credit for what I’ve learnt? How did that got credit for that? Why, if I learn 24×7 (because my brain just won’t stop — what I learn is another debate), should I limit my learning to a specific place (school, university…) and a specific time (class hours)? Why building artificial scarcities and barriers when there’s (almost) none?

I’m not expressing here a personal wish — though I find most of these questions really appealing and even compelling — but an underground roar that is increasingly becoming mainstream, not only in education with the edupunk “movement”, but also in other fields like e-Government and e-Democracy.

We are witnessing a move towards de-institutionalization, from an education that works for the institution towards institutions that work for education, or from a democracy that works for parties and governments or parties and governments that work for democracy.

But, as always, the interesting question is not what is happening, but why. Why all this being fed up with institutions? What is the problem with them? And, moreover, why still so many people — especially policy-makers — are so deaf to hear (not to speak about listening to and reflecting about) and address these questions?

The problem with tampering with education is that the results (a) are unpredictable (because of the complexity of the subject) and (b) will only show up in the long term, when the harm (and a big one) has already been made. I think the movement towards openness and de-institutionalization in education is unstoppable (time will tell, though). So institutions (governments, universities, schools, parents associations, etc.) would better accompany the movement, so to avoid that people that exit institutions just find themselves out in the void, and try instead to engage in a debate to move towards a planned de-institutionalization or, at least, re-institutionalization.

More information on the Open EdTech Summit 2009

If you cannot see the video, please visit <a href="http://ictlogy.net/?p=3308">http://ictlogy.net/?p=3308</a>

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2010) “De-institutionalizing education” In ICTlogy, #76, January 2010. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=3308

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3 Comments to “De-institutionalizing education” »

  1. I have to say, this is one of the best descriptions about deinstitutionalization I’ve read. Thanks for sharing it. I went ahead and shared it with my friend at a Portland based thinktank on education. That, to prove your point, wouldn’t be possible without deinstitutionalization.

    A symptom of this trend is the shrinking atomic unit of consumption – described by Google’s Marissa Mayer (to the US congress, interestingly): http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2009/05/atomic-unit-of-online-consumption.html

    Best,

    Glenn Friesen
    @glennisaac

  2. Thanks for the compliment Glenn, and for the link too :)
    Definitely, the change in the “units of consumption” is one of our major challenges right now, be it consumption as usual or “consumption” of engagement and participation, learning, etc.

  3. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Is “de-institutionalization” a condition for open education?

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