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Posted: February 18, 2013

The futurist: More on the micro credit solution

A self-organizing college alternative

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part 1.)

Varying degrees of learning happen many times throughout every day. The process of validating the learning can take many forms. The Micro Credit system will not apply to all situations.

As a starting point, a pilot project should be formed around written and video content, involving books, movies, TV shows, video shorts, and other written documents. Once these forms of content are validated and a sufficient consumer demand is demonstrated, other forms of content can be added.

Here are of few other implications that may result from a well-functioning Micro Credit system:

• REPLACING THE CEU: CEUs (Continuing Education Units) are a poorly implemented system for validating professional education based on hours spent sitting in a classroom or viewing courseware. This is a system in dire need of overhaul. Micro Credits are a better system for authenticating learning, easier to implement and easier for professionals to fit into a busy schedule.

• REPLACING THE RESUME: Employers who have relied on resumes in the hiring process know what a crude tool it is to describe the skills and talent of an individual. Micro Credits will create a far more granular description of the learning experiences, and over time, applicable talent, skills, and other life experiences. As the Micro Credit system evolves, a new generation of digital resume-replacement tools will be developed.

• COMPETITION FOR COLLEGES: Currently the credit-granting authority of colleges and universities has no competitive, checks and balance, alternative. This is the primary reason why tuition prices have escalated over 400 percent since 1980.

• CREDENTIALING FOR CURRENT NON-ACADEMIC PROFESSIONS: There are currently many occupations with no associated academic pathways for entering the profession. As a result, most game designers, aromatherapists, inventors, futurologists, social networkers, coaches, search engine optimizers, augmented reality specialists, broadcast engineers, and alternative health consultants are self-taught. At the same time, many new professions are being developed on a daily basis.

• THE ADVENT OF MICRO COLLEGES: Along with Micro Credits comes the potential for a new breed of colleges that operate outside of the bounds of current academic institutions, based primarily on the emerging Micro Credit industry.

• HYPER-INDIVIDUALIZED LEARNING: Colleges today are operated with a top-down mentality, which results in a very limited scope of options when it comes to course topics and possible majors. This approach is in direct conflict with the hyper-individualized, long-tail world developing around us.

Background Information on College Credits

College credits are based on the number of contact hours per week in class, with the assumption there will be twice as much time involved in study and homework.
From section 600.2 of the DOE’s regulations:

Definition of a Credit Hour: The minimum amount of work that is an institutionally established equivalency that is not less than one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester; or ten or twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time.

Since most college classes are only 45-50 minutes and many classes require far less homework than the two-for-one studying ratio suggests, there is considerable grey area in this formula.

Background Information on CEUs

CEU stands for Continuing Education Unit. A CEU is a unit of credit equal to 10 hours of participation in an accredited program designed for professionals with certificates or licenses to practice various professions. IACET (International Association for Continuing Education & Training) is the caretaker of the CEU.

Doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, CPAs, real estate agents, financial advisers, and other such professionals are required to participate in continuing education programs for a certain number of hours every year in order to keep their certificates, or licenses to practice, current. The annual number of CEUs required varies by state and profession. The failure of this system is the onerous time and place requirements with scant attention paid to actual subject matter comprehension.

Final Thoughts
What I have described above is a self-organizing system. Since most people still believe that education must take place in the classroom, and only educators can create new courses, we have placed a very constrictive valve on the inflow of new education options.

The notion that education can take place only in a classroom is similar to the notion that purchasing a product can only take place when you see it on a store shelf. Removing the classroom constraints to learning is similar to removing the shelf space constraints in the marketplace.

The system described above for Micro Credits is intended to be every bit as rigorous and demanding as traditional college coursework, with the primary difference being the alternative pathways for both creating and assigning fractional credits. Keep in mind that the granting of a single college credit will require answering over 550 questions on a minimum of 10 separate tests.

This is a system that will instantly spawn new thinking but may not develop the critical mass necessary to disrupt anything. When it comes to designing a new system like this, as much as we study ourselves, there is still much that we don’t know.

According to former Harvard President Larry Summers, “It’s important to remember that we’re not so good at understanding the subtleties of environments that make them attractive to people. Look at football for example. One way to watch a game is to sit on a cold bench with no good food and bad bathrooms. The other is in our own living rooms, with instant replay, and food you like at your convenience. And then ask yourself – which would you guess people pay for? Which do people cheer for? You’d get it wrong. There are aspects of bringing people together in groups that we can’t quite understand and judge. The working out of this will depend a lot on formulas for making it attractive and collaborative. And as the football example suggests, it won’t be immediately obvious what those models are.”

This entire column is intended to serve as a starting point, to initiate additional ideas and further conversation. So I’d love to hear what you think. Is this a rational approach, and if so, how would you change it to make it better?

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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