I took advantage of getting a copy of Teach and Grow Rich when it was offered as a free Kindle book. It looks at the things that have been sold as online courses. The author compares what he calls the publishing model where learning materials are left online for people to access and the education model where in addition to learning materials there is interaction between the learners and the course providers.
What is education?
It set me thinking what do I think education involves? The first thing that came to mind was preparing learners for assessments that proved they were worthy of being awarded a certificate because they could do certain things. Those assessments could involve practical tests or questions answered under exam conditions or gathering a portfolio of evidence or proof that they had done certain things.
I suppose that comes from working as a teacher in colleges and community settings where the aim had to be getting a qualification. The organisations I worked for had to do this so they could prove they were good enough to be given money to subsidise the service they were offering people. The learners needed the proof that came from having a certificate that said they had gone through this process when they applied for jobs.
The whole process seemed to revolve around gathering proof. Proof that demonstrated the worth of the organisation providing the education and proof of the worth of the individual who had achieved that qualification.
All too often the focus was on getting the qualification aka proof rather than on what was being learnt and how. OK, it is hard to get a qualification without circumstances that promote good quality learning but this was not the goal. The goal was the qualification, that proved the learner’s ability.
Why is proof necessary?
The reason why people want proof depends on where they fit in the system.
Those subsidising courses want proof that they have got something for their money. They like a paper trail that shows them they have got something for their money.
Those looking for employees want proof of what interview candidates can do. They look for certificates and evidence of experience. Certificates are only part of what they are looking for and the importance of their role depends on the employer. Some like to see certificates. Others prefer to train people themselves.
There are people who want to do courses to prove what they can do to others. This can be a good thing but it can become a trap. In fact, it was a trap I fell into. I kept wanting to prove that I was capable of doing things so I did course after course after course after course. The problem was I was staying in education for the wrong reasons.
OK, education was a safe environment when I was struggling to survive in difficult circumstances. I suppose it is better to hide away in a college doing course after course after course than to use one of the many other coping mechanisms I could have used instead. It was easier weaning myself off education than it would have been drink or drugs even those prescribed by a doctor.
Education to me is all about gathering proof for a variety of reasons. Not all of them were good reasons.
The difference between learning and education
For me, learning is something quite different. It is the joy of expanding your abilities so that you can do things differently. No one is checking what you are doing or how you are doing it. This makes it a joyful experience because you are doing what is right for you rather than being controlled by other people.
Learning to me is working out how to do things differently. It means improving the way I do things so that I do them more efficiently or more effectively. It is the process of becoming a more capable human being.
Unlike education where the process is controlled by the outcome, learning to me involves working out how to do what you want to do better. It includes reading, watching videos, listening to speakers and any other means of sharing information. Gathering information is not the only thing that happens as the learner has to process the information and apply it to their own lives.
The pressure of education
There is no wonder that some people are turned off by the very word education. To them, it means control and being forced to do things you are not good at because other people say that you should do them.
Believe it or not, even those who are born teachers struggle with the education system. They cannot teach what they want to teach as the organisations that control the purse strings say we want you to teach this and not that.
Their main form of control is money, i.e. do this and we will pay you, do that and we won’t pay you. For example, if central government pays all or part of the cost of providing courses then they have some control over what courses are offered to learners.
In an effort to maintain high standards they set up systems whereby teachers gain qualifications and then over time make it necessary to gain ever higher qualifications. In other words, they educate people so that they become the type of teachers they want.
They also set up inspection systems to monitor the quality of the education provided. In other words, they set standards then use them to encourage other people to reach them. Of course, not everyone agrees with all the standards that they set.
Teachers, even those who teach those just starting school, do not always have a lot of control over what they teach. They have a syllabus or curriculum to follow. You do this in year 1 and that in year 2. You look at this topic rather than that one.
See why education to me means control. There are some who say that education is one of the processes involved in changing society. What is accepted as normal in school in one generation is accepted as normal in the whole of society in the next.
Dictators and others have used education as part of the process of social engineering. It does not have to go that far as employers want schools to provide them with the sort of employees they are looking for. In years gone by those learners might have been become canon fodder or the clerks needed to run an empire.
Back to the book that started me thinking
Their idea of education was increased interaction with the learners and the materials compared to the publishing model. To be honest that is a valid distinction. A lot of what has been described as online education is little more than watching a video which is really the equivalent of reading a textbook.
In the publishing model the materials are provided for the learner but after that, they are on their own. The lack of interaction with other learners, tutors or coaches limits their learning experience. If someone is willing to learn and able to learn on their own then learning takes place.
BTW what is learning. It is something that leads to a change in behaviour i.e. you learn something and your behaviour changes as a result. I think that is what most people are looking for. It is also what most people expect to happen as a result of education.
OK, learning does happen within the education system as we know it. However, it also happens outside it. We don’t have to depend on an education system that demands proof in the form of certificates and that is controlled by others for their own purposes.
We can take control of what we learn. We can choose what we read, what we listen to and what we watch. We can choose how we respond to those things. When we do that learning can become enjoyable and the issues of control linked to education disappear.
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