Radical modernisers and educational traditionalists clashed at this year’s Online Educa Berlin (OEB) conference in Germany’s capital. Donald Clark, a director of the United Kingdom’s University for Industry, called for a new approach to accreditation.
Addressing the motto of this year’s OEB, “Reaching beyond Tomorrow”, participants discussed the motion that “a ban on diplomas and degrees awarded by schools and universities would have a positive impact on competence development and lifelong learning”.
Clark referred to two critical aspects in this context – developments in technology and their impact on course provision, and growing youth unemployment.
He maintained that the internet and the increasing use of other modern technologies was changing the way people were learning, and said: “There’s been more pedagogic change in the last 10 years than in the last 10,000 years”.
He criticised higher education for its largely unchanged approach to accreditation. “The price keeps on rising, but the product remains the same,” Clark said, adding that “education sticks with knowledge, not skills, because it’s easy to test”.
However, Clark called into question whether such knowledge was really relevant in today’s workplaces, and whether degrees and diplomas actually reflected the acquisition of the skills needed for the modern labour market.
With youth unemployment rates of 23% in Europe, 17% in the United States and on average 20% in G20 countries, university graduates were increasingly discovering that their qualification levels were not always up to employers’ standards.
Software designer and innovation management expert Jef Staes claimed that today’s educational structure was “created in an era of information scarcity. Knowledge was the privilege of the insiders, the smart, the powerful. This knowledge reinforced their status within society and within this structure.”
Today, thanks to the internet and advances in technology, information was becoming democratised and the old foundations were “slowly crumbling”.
Clark’s views were vehemently contested by Sue Martin of SAP Germany. Martin stressed the role of assessment and “sound and reliable competency benchmarks for industry”, and said a ban on diplomas and degrees would “eliminate an important and tangible deliverable of our education system”.
She conceded that massive open online courses (MOOCs) were graining ground and were set to revolutionise access to higher education worldwide, but maintained that the issue of accreditation remained a “major stumbling block to their widespread adoption”.
The 18th OEB, held from 28-30 November, attracted more than 2,000 participants from around 100 countries. There were 400 speakers. OEB claims to be the largest global e-learning conference for the corporate, education and public service sectors.
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