The age of educational institutions having a monopoly on knowledge is quickly ending. Today, videos, lectures and other resources from world-class subject matter experts and communicators are available for free at the click of a button. No matter what subject you are looking for and no matter what depth you are looking to engage it in, you can find the resources you need online. In essence, a motivated learner can access content whenever they want from wherever they have an internet connection. No expensive tuition required.
But that raises the question if educational institutions are no longer the guardians of knowledge, what are they? What is their role? May I suggest that their role is to bridge the gap between knowledge and education.
Education is cohesive, collective and scaffolded
Much of the democratized information available online is found independent of context and related subject matter. As a result, this leaves the learner with gaps in their knowledge often resulting in frustration as they attempt to understand deeper concepts without a solidly built foundation.
Education, on the other hand, helps a student build the pathway from being a subject matter padawan to being a master. By linking all the related subjects together, demonstrating their connectivity and identifying the discrete steps in the learning journey, educational institutions can help their students gain more than just information.
Education is outcomes orientated
While information can be accessed and accrued without a broader understanding of how it fits in, education is always concerned with getting someone somewhere. The cohesive, collective and scaffolded programs we just talked about also give prospective students a clear view of where they are going … and why.
Every degree program and every course within that program includes discreet learning goals that are clear to the prospective student before they embark in the learning journey, enabling them to effectively understand why they are learning what they are learning and what they will know and be able to do when they finish.
Education is standardized and accredited
For many, the fact that educational institutions are standardized through accreditation is a strike against them, not a benefit. This critique is not unfounded as accreditation and standardization can sometimes lead to program designs that do not account for different learners with different abilities, learning styles and prior knowledge. By treating each learner as identical, these programs do not allow individual students to reach their best.
However, knowing that a graduate’s education has included key components is critical. Without it, future employers or schools looking to utilize or build on the student’s education cannot have any sense of security that the student has engaged any particular subject at the depth they are required to.
What is the future for educational institutions?
As educational institutions lose their monopoly on knowledge, we need to look towards educational philosophies and programs that emphasize what we can provide that no amount of free online content can. If knowledge is available everywhere, we need to leverage that and focus on providing education.
In the world of theological education, we have an opportunity to do that in Competency-Based Theological Education.
By building integrated competencies, CBTE programs are able to clearly demonstrate to students the different subject matter required to achieve mastery. Mentors are able to guide the student in the process of developing mastery and scaffolding toward demonstrating it.
CBTE programs are, at their very core, outcomes oriented. While some traditional courses and programs were designed around outcomes, the evaluation of these outcomes in the student is done by proxies (such as exams and assignments). CBTE programs collapse the distance between outcome and evaluation through direct assessment of the competencies in the life and work of the student.
CBTE programs also maximize the value of accreditation by standardizing the results (which leads to confidence in the quality of the graduate) rather than process (which leads to asking diverse students to develop in the exact same way). In other words, future employers or educators can be confident about what the graduate knows and can demonstrate and the student has the freedom to modify their education experience to maximize their development.
The future of advanced education is changing and theological education is not exempt. CBTE is not, and will not be, the only innovation that helps schools to meet the changing needs of learners, but it is one that enables educational institutions to focus on what they can provide that no video or web platform can alone.