Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Breaking the diploma dictatorship

I've been intrigued by developments such as the Khan Academy (which occasionally supplements the Musketeers' math instruction), and now the Code Academy (which I suspect may become the Oldest Musketeer's latest online time sink).

This development, however, may be the start of something truly great -- the widespread return of recognized, valued vocational credentials...
The spread of a seemingly playful alternative to traditional diplomas, inspired by Boy Scout achievement patches and video-game power-ups, suggests that the standard certification system no longer works in today's fast-changing job market.
Educational upstarts across the Web are adopting systems of "badges" to certify skills and abilities. If scouting focuses on outdoorsy skills like tying knots, these badges denote areas employers might look for, like mentorship or digital video editing. Many of the new digital badges are easy to attain—intentionally so—to keep students motivated, while others signal mastery of fine-grained skills that are not formally recognized in a traditional classroom. ...
But the biggest push for badges is coming from industry and education reformers, rather than from traditional educational institutions. Mozilla, the group that develops the popular Firefox Web browser, is designing a framework to let anyone with a Web page—colleges, companies, or even individuals—issue education badges designed to prevent forgeries and give potential employers details about the distinctions at the click of a mouse. ...
Employers might prefer a world of badges to the current system. After all, traditional college diplomas look elegant when hung on the wall, but they contain very little detail about what the recipient learned

That last bit is the real rub.  A college diploma used to be a reliable marker of a certain level of education, which is why they are often demanded merely to get an interview.  This marker is no longer necessarily true.  And considering how much of a college education today consists of various electives of dubious 'educational' value, a four-year degree equivalent is often more a marker of forced tenacity than it is of any particular acquired skills.
The linked article references the Microsoft certification program... something I've long thought is a viable alternative for specialized vocation.  One does not need a four-year degree in mechanical engineering to be an auto mechanic.  Both vocations are needed; the training is different, however.  The application of the college degree approach to a wide range of hands-on, so-called "blue collar" specialties has been a disservice both to the public and to the educational process itself.  Leave it to the last relatively unfettered market -- the Internet -- to lead the charge at reform.

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