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Colleges are holding technology at bay because the only thing MOOCs provide is access to world-class professors at an unbeatable price. What they don’t offer are official college degrees, the kind that can get you a job.
And that, it turns out, is mostly what college students are paying for.
Free online courses won’t revolutionize education until there is a parallel system of free or low-fee credentials, not controlled by traditional colleges, that leads to jobs.
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Most important, traditional college degrees are deeply embedded in government regulation and standard human resources practice.
The standard diploma has roughly the same amount of information that prisoners of war are required to divulge under the Geneva Conventions. College transcripts are a nightmare of departmental abbreviations, course numbers of indeterminate meaning, and grades whose value has been steadily eroded by their inflation.
Traditional college degrees are deeply inadequate tools for communicating information.
Think about all the work you did in college. Unless you’re a recent college graduate, how much of it was saved and archived in a way that you can access now? What about the skills you acquired in various jobs? Digital learning environments can save and organize almost everything. Here, in the “unlabeled” folder, are all of my notes, tests, homework, syllabus and grades from the edX genetics course. My “real” college courses, by contrast, are lost to history, with only an inscrutable abbreviation on a paper transcript suggesting that they ever happened at all.
College degrees, for all of their faults, are quick and easy to digest. Of
Companies such as LinkedIn are steadily building new tools for people to describe their employable selves. College degrees, by contrast, say little and never change.
But their true impact won’t be felt until students and learners of all kinds have access to digital credentials that are also built for the modern world. Then they’ll be able to acquire skills and get jobs for a fraction of what colleges cost today.
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