Sunday, May 16, 2010

End of the middle men?

I've just learnt a new word thanks to a blogpost by Rob Tucker, Disintermediation: The disruption to come for Education 2.0. The term disintermediation refers to the way new net tools are cutting out the middle men in many areas of business. The main example in the post is that of the travel agent, a shrinking business now that so many people fix their own travel direct on the net. It can also refer to record shops or book shops which are now becoming endangered species due to the massive rise in online sales. The net cuts out the need for intermediaries, thereby cutting overheads and enabling us to do business direct with the suppliers.

The point of the article is that education is next in line for disintermediation. Schools, colleges and universities are the middle men here who are unnecessarily complicating the process of learning. Today's social web enables global collaborative learning and prompts many to question the need for the limitations of the traditional classroom. There is a clear disconnect between the classroom focus on individual learning and students' focus on networking. While most school and university exams focus on testing what each individual knows, the business world increasingly demands employees who are good at networking and can solve problems by drawing on the knowledge of their personal learning networks. These 21st century skills are seldom taught or valued in schools and colleges today.

But does this mean that schools and colleges will soon be obsolete as record stores or travel agents may well be? I believe that they may be for those who are sufficiently digitally literate to take charge of their own learning. Just as some people enjoy the challenge of planning and booking their own holiday, there will be many who can plan and take responsibility for their own learning. For them the traditional arenas will become increasingly irrelevant and I expect new structures and institutions to appear in the near future to support this movement. More alternative avenues for academic study will no doubt appear to accommodate new forms of learning.

However there are many more who simply lack the skills, inclination or patience to take responsibility for their own education and will need considerable help. Most of us need someone breathing down our necks to achieve anything at all. We're very grateful for someone else to provide a framework or point us in the right direction. I book a lot of my travel myself but when it comes to more complicated bookings I have sometimes realized that it simply takes up too much of my time and am quite happy to pay for a travel agent to do that extra work for me. The same is true of all those other areas where we are drowning in choice (electricity, telecoms, pension insurance etc).

Education 2.0, whatever that may be, will see some radical departures from traditional approaches to education but will still be largely based around the traditional intermediaries of schools and colleges. They will not be the only road to academic achievement but will still be the most obvious option for the vast majority. However they will have to accept a new role and alter their approach to education to stay in tune with the net-based society that is forming.

"There will always be physical schools - students need to go somewhere during the day to enable the engine of modern economic progress: two parents working. But these schools will evolve into things that look more like civic centers - hubs for community involvement and rich relationship-building, augmented by more spontaneous micro-communities that span the globe, forming and bursting like soap bubbles. None of these things are certain. What is certain is that disintermediation rarely has a delicate touch. It will change the way we teach and change the way we learn in the decade and decades ahead."

No comments:

Post a Comment