Dr. Trent Batson has another good article in Campus Technology this week asking if sending students to college is really necessary in today’s networked world.
A friend told me recently that people are asking him why learners, in
this age, need to ever attend college to become educated. This question
undoubtedly has occurred to all educators, and to many parents who are
paying tuition. There is perhaps no more raw-edged question than this
in all of higher education: Have we educators become obsolete?
Batson argues that college is indeed necessary for many students, even though students have access to more knowledge today than any other group of people in all of recorded history combined.
Learning, according to Batson, is a process that involves both a learner and an instructor. Indeed, the process of communication between instructor and one or more students is the very foundation of all learning. A highly motivated and focused individual can certainly learn all they need to in a specific discipline using a wide variety of resources. However, a lot of students need a little bit of a push to get going in the right direction. Instructors at college can serve as guides and mentors for students to help them learn their disciplines more effectively than they might if they took a self-study approach.
Colleges also offer the advantages of grouping related material together into degree programs. Students can certainly pick and choose from other courses, but a degree program offers the best opportunities for students to concentrate on a particular discipline (e.g. Chemical Engineering). They can also see how their discipline relates to other disciplines in the same field. For example, Chemical Engineering takes a great deal of its knowledge from chemistry, but chemical engineers also need to learn about engineering-specific knowledge such as fluid dynamics, mass transfer, and process dynamics. A Chemistry student might learn some of these, but they are not required to do so.
I think there is an argument to be made that while college is still necessary for students who want to grow and develop their knowledge in a particular discipline, the paradigm is changing as to how students acquire that knowledge in a college environment. The communication tools today are powerful enough to allow students to essentially pick and choose the college courses they need from a wide variety of schools so that the end goal of knowledge in a given discipline meets the needs of the student’s chosen industry. The real challenge, according to Batson:
It is even harder now to find clarity and coherence because of the huge ration of noise to signal.
College is more necessary than ever. In a flood, the hardest thing to find is drinking water.