In 1971, Ivan Illich published Deschooling Society in which he criticized the creation of “educational funnels” through which all students do have to pass to receive universal education (universal in many ways).
While the industrialization of education has had positive effects, it is also true that its origins belong to a specific place and a specific time: the industrial society.
In the new digital economy, many of the ancient physical barriers have disappeared. Digital goods are not scarce, but can be created, copied and distributed with little cost. Also, transaction costs, coordination between agents have also fallen to negligible levels in recent years. And many institutions are faced with the dilemma of whether to adapt or become extinct. Educational institutions — schools, universities, professors, publishers of educational materials, etc. — are some of them.
While on an industrial society, knowledge was embodied in (a) books and (b) “wise men.” The first ones were scarce, as reproduction was expensive. Furthermore, accessing each and every one of them was too expensive, so it was decided that it would be more efficient to group them in places that would make travelling to consult a book worthwhile: and we got libraries.
As people that consulted the books travelled to libraries, it became obvious that it was better that people should live (and work) around them. Schools and, above all, universities were built around the books that contained all knowledge. The next logical step was the concentration of trainees (students) around the wise men who were concentrated (in turn) around books.
If we have schools and universities, among other things, it is because it is an efficient way to distribute knowledge: by physically concentrating it concentrate.
In a digital economy, neither the books are rare (because they can be copied virtually to zero cost), nor access to them is costly (because we do it by browsing the Internet from home in our slippers). And the same with access to the “wise men”: we’ve got their classes and lectures on YouTube, their presentations on Slideshare, their articles on their websites (and everywhere else), their e-mail addresses just a click away…
Is it still the concentration of the educational system in schools and universities the most efficient option in a digital society?
It is likely that educational institutions must change and not only their model, but their very same role in the society. When the role to concentrate and distribute knowledge is no longer relevant as a matter of costs, both model and role should probably change. And probably by taking a more qualitative turn.
Nowadays, it is not only feasible but easy to learn from home, from one’s workplace, anywhere. Informal learning can be so intense and effective as formal learning, the one that takes place in educational institutions: student-centred learning, peer learning, learning by doing, collaborative learning environments, personal learning environments, communities of practice…
Should we start a debate?
- Deinstitutionalizing education.
- From non-formal learning to casual learning.
- New learning contents and platforms.
- Learning assessment and accreditation in the Information Society.
Also about this topic:
- Recreando el Bazar, by Alina Mierlus.
If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:
Peña-López, I. (2010) “Deinstitutionalizing education” In ICTlogy,
#85, October 2010. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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