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Implications of the Web for Post Secondary Institutions

October 26, 2005

From the Toronto Star, October 25, 2005
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You know a diploma is worth less and less. Soon it’s going to be worth nothing at all.

If you’ve just completed an undergraduate degree you might not want to hear what Mississauga-based futurist Jim Carroll has to say.

“For young people I think one of the things they will need to understand is the skill of `just-in-time’ knowledge,” says Carroll, who advises companies across North America.

He explains that “just-in-time” knowledge is the skill of learning information during quickly advancing periods of change. The information learned is entirely — and possibly only — relevant at a specific time. Learning it will require people to immediately dump previous information that is no longer relevant at the same time.

“The concept of going to school for knowledge is kind of quaint,” says Carroll, who foresees a future when longer degree programs will become almost obsolete. “What is the relevance of a three or four or five-year degree program when half of what kids learn in their first year will be obsolete by the time they graduate?”

Carroll says the majority of knowledge needed in the workplace of the future will be gained from collaborative social networks, online sources and independent learning.

As far as formal education goes, he doesn’t think many degree programs will be longer than about nine months.

“A survey I saw a couple weeks ago said young people now think self-employment is more secure than a corporate job.

“As young people continue to completely reject the concept of the traditional workplace they will also move to educational models that suit their relationship with a changing work world.”

In many ways the educational system has avoided the Web and left young people to make their own way through it. Most of them have discovered peer-to-peer file sharing for music, and some of them have discovered porn. Few know much about how to evaluate the trustworthiness of sites, or understand either the law or how easy it is to see what they’re doing on the Web.

We need to teach ourselves and all our students

  • how to apply critical thinking to what we find on the Web
  • how to research effectively on the Web
  • how to use library databases
  • how to use the Web as a learning tool/medium

My observations lead me to believe that we educators are abandonning many young people to discover the Web on their own, without our guidance, in the communication space they increasingly inhabit. Jim Carroll’s prediction will come true for sure, if we don’t join these digital natives, and share what they need to learn, while learning what they can share with us.

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