Higher education is still a fairly exclusive commodity even if the number of students rises every year. In most countries it is still a major investment for a young student and many will take over 20 years to pay back the loan. In addition to that competition for places, especially at the top universities, is fierce. Millions of people are denied higher education because they can't afford it, can't move from home or are not able to meet the entry requirements.
With the wealth of open educational resources freely available today it is possible to put together your own education using the best resources and the methods that suit you. The material and information is all out there but it still requires a great deal of self-discipline, good study routines and a high level of digital literacy to fully benefit. There are plenty of courses available through innovative educational initiatives like Peer 2 Peer University, University of the People and the various MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that a few universities are offering. However most of these courses assume that participants are already familiar with social media and comfortable using wikis, blogs, discussion forums and e-meeting tools.
Anya Kamenetz has written a guide book to DIY education, Edupunks, edupreneurs and the coming transformation of higher education that aims at providing inspiration and support to those who want to learn "off piste." She has also produced a shorter version, The Edupunk's guide to a DIY credential which is a step by step guide to taking control of your own learning and research using the tools and resources freely available on the net today.
Most of this DIY movement is completely off the radar of mainstream higher education and she sees the issue as the elephant in the room for universities today as she explains in this short video interview.
The Elephant on Campus | Anya Kamenetz clip #1 from Mind Twin Media on Vimeo.
There's a good summary of this issue on the excellent blog Innovative Educator, The Do It Yourself (DIY) Guide to Credentialing, with more links if you want to investigate more.
Guides like this are extremely valuable and the volume of informal learning taking place today is a growing but virtually invisible force in education today. However it still excludes many potential students who simply don't have the right level of digital literacy and will need lots of support and encouragement to get started. We need to link in libraries, learning centres and other adult education groups to support digital literacy projects and offer face-to-face guidance in the community to ensure that there is always an option available for everyone who needs education and training.
I've just found Stephen Downes excellent practical guide to learning in the digital age, Access :: Future. Practical advice on how to learn and what to learn. (link to pdf)