Monday, April 19, 2010

'The Disaggregation of Higher Education'

Will Richardson, whose Weblogg-ed is a must-read for anyone thinking about that Texas-sized intersection of technology and education, recently wrote about a New York Times Magazine article titled "An Open Mind" by Kate Hafner. I won't repeat Richardson's analysis, other than to recommend it to all of you reading this blog. 

Instead, I want to draw some attention to some of Hafner's points that ring more loudly and true for me as a community college instructor.  Hafner writes,
But just 9 percent of those who use M.I.T. OpenCourseWare are educators. Forty-two percent are students enrolled at other institutions, while another 43 percent are independent learners like Mr. Gates. Yale, which began putting free courses online just four years ago, is seeing similar proportions: 25 percent are students, a majority of them enrolled at Yale or prospective students; just 6 percent are educators; and 69 percent are independent learners.
Think about those numbers:  43% of MIT OpenCourseWare users are independent learners - people not necessarily associated with an institution of higher education, people who . . . just . . .  want . . . to . . . learn!  IN certain circles, I have been accused of being a pie-eyed optimist, but I'll admit that I find this number incredibly heartening.   The other big number - 42% of MIT OpenCourseWare users are students at other higher ed. institutions - strikes me as remarkable as well.  These users want to learn as well, but they are using the resource to enrich the learning that they are experiencing elsewhere (one with a grade attached to it).  These could be the students that I teach (if I do my job well).  Hafner describes some of the work being done with the Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative,where the learning is shaped for"'someone with limited prior knowledge in a college subject and with little or no experience in successfully directing his or her own learning,'" These resources are exactly the kind that can benefit many of the students whom I teach.

The title of this posting comes from a David Wiley quote within Hafner's article.  I invoke it here because it captures what I have been thinking about for some time now, which is the morphing of higher education.  There is a part of me that embraces this change, the part that applauds collaborative learning and a different kind of economics for learning.  There's another part of me that wonders how I'll keep up with the changes, how the morphing of higher education will morph me. 

I encourage you to check out Richardson's blog (bookmark it, RSS it, make it your home page) and read Hafner's article. 


  1. Jim Groom ( currently composing an angry post defaming your name because you did not give him some sort of credit in this post.

  2. My omission and error: Said Mr. Groom is one of my favorite Edu-punks:

  3. I have published three articles on the unbundling of higher education (the first in 1975; most are available through an internet search):

    “The Unbundling of Higher Education,” 1975 Duke Law Journal 53.

    “The Dismantling of Higher Education,” published in two parts in 29 Improving College and University Teaching 55 (1981) and 29 Improving College and University Teaching 115 (1981)

    “The Restructuring of Legal Education Along Functional Lines,” 17 Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues 331 (2008)(discusses legal education, but applies to higher education generally); abstract below



    Currently, law schools tie together five quite distinct services in one package, offered to a limited number of students. These five functions are: (1) impartation of knowledge, (2)counseling/placement, (3) credentialing (awarding grades and degrees), (4) coercion, and (5) club membership. Students do not have the opportunity to pay for just the services they want, or to buy each of the five services from different providers.

    This article proposes an “unbundled” system in which the five services presently performed by law schools would be rendered by many different kinds of organizations, each specializing in only one function or an aspect of one function. Unbundling of legal education along functional lines would substantially increase student options and dramatically increase competition and innovation by service providers. This offers the hope of making available more individualized and better instruction and giving students remarkable freedom of choice as to courses, schedules, work-pace, instructional media, place of residence, and site of learning. Most importantly, this improved education would be available on an “open admissions” basis at much lower cost to many more individuals throughout the nation, or even the world.

    In order to explain how to restructure the existing law school system, this article will discuss the five educational services presently performed by law schools, the disadvantages of tying these services together, a hypothetical unbundled world of legal education, the advantages of the unbundled system, answers to some possible objections to the system, and some recent developments in the use of technology and distance learning in law schools.

    The main theme of this article is the advantage of unbundling. A more modest sub-theme is the benefit of use of technology and distance learning.