In a recent Guardian article on the growth of open educational resources (Any student, any subject, anywhere) there was a quote from David Wiley of Brigham Young University in Utah:
"I don't know whether in future the people who answer questions, provide content and provide the degree will be in the same institution. It's likely that institutions will specialise in just one of those areas and then form partnerships with other institutions that play other roles."
There are already net institutions like Peer 2 Peer University and University of the People using open educational resources and building their courses around student-driven collaborative learning. Obviously there will be a need for universities or other organisations who specialize in examination, providing self-learners and collaborative learners with the opportunity to get academic recognition for their efforts. I now realize that such examination specialists are already up and running according to an article in e-Campus News, Credit by exams expands student options.
Evidently two institutions, Excelsior College and Pearson VUE already offer thousands of students the chance to sit exams without having attended classes. This is of course an extremely attractive way of saving considerable sums of money on tuition fees with exams at Excelsior costing a mere $85. This opens the way for students to study on open courses or simply by pure self study without having to put yourself deeply in debt. However, to be successful you will need to be highly disciplined, have excellent digital competence and have built up a wide personal learning environment to provide , reference, support and encouragement.
While there are plenty resourceful students who can meet these demands it is even more important to find ways of helping new students gain access to education and they need hands-on guidance in how to use the net and filter information. Those who do not have any experience of higher education and who are not so digitally literate need teachers/mentors who are close at hand, preferably face-to-face. If you feel intimidated by computers and the net there isn't much comfort in knowing that all resources and support are on the net. Local learning centres and libraries are already working with this in many countries but often with low funding or through temporary injections of project money. New learners are easily discouraged and if they meet technical difficulties they will drop out. Support must be local and accessible.
Collaborative net-based learning has enormous potential for those with the necessary skills but the majority of people who would benefit from open education lack the skills to get on board. The open courses and examination forms are great for the already initiated. I hope we can find equally creative ways of narrowing the digital divide so open education can benefit the majority.