Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Blogphilosophy: #education needs to shift, creating meaningful #identities

This post builds upon the idea that education must be rethought, but not in terms of the disrupted higher education (higher ed under pressure with online learning – MOOCs etc, global educational market stressing smaller universities and colleges), but in terms of reshaping all of our identities and self-esteems for each one of us. This post is a synopsis of an upcoming position paper on the subject (paper is more elaborate).
Future and current education should provide a valued identity – person-centered, social-centered.

Turn education from job formation to meaningful identity supporter

The real challenge of education, and where I think it should be rethought comes from the idea that the first priority of education should no longer be focused on finding a job, but on creating a meaningful identity for people no matter which job (or no job) they have. Only by shifting towards a different educational goal, can education support our future, global society. Jobs are increasingly being automated, at the same time more workers than ever before take to the job market (globalisation, delocalisation). No matter how we redesign education, it will no longer be able to get everyone a job. So all the talk on improving education to better fit the job needs of companies is just humbug. The jobs shift to other parts of the world, there is more automation and new technologies that trim down job needs (e.g. 3D printing: just print your furniture or material, you do not have to ask a carpenter nor go to IKEA or any other store – bye bye stores and employees; another example is a teacher: assessments are automated, self-learning is promoted… less teachers will do). A UK report looking at the job future from a month ago underpins this statement in pointing towards job loss by 2030. So creating jobs for everyone in the future is a big impossibility, an idea from the past that lives on in the minds of many but is no longer – even today - reality. This however means that each of our ‘having work is good’ identities are under stress. Having a job should no longer be at the core of our self-esteem, our meaning of life. If we want people to feel valued and meaningful, education must be reshaped to support and create purposeful identities build on creativity and ‘keeping yourself busy is ok’.
Online learning to provide new identities in a changed less job oriented society

And I think online learning will be able to create and disseminate these new identities, and support a framework of new societal laws that can provide us with an identity. In fact, I can see how new identities are provided and taken up through online resources. Yet the current new identities are not always supportive for a global, equal, open society.

I also thoroughly belief this shift in societal – shaped by education – identities must be built with the utmost haste. As it is clear to see that the loss of meaning felt by many human beings (in many cases teenagers and youngsters not being able to find a job, and hence at a loss with their societal identity and future prospects) is showing an urgent need for replacing job meaning with non-job-related identities. To me extreme thoughts and actions only (or for the most part) become attractive, because they provide new meaning in a society that has lost the capacity to provide meaning to everyone.

The discussions that lead up to this post: disruptive higher ed talks

Dave Cormier (learning first principle post here and response to Stephen Downes here) , Stephen Downes and Matt Crosslin have been engaging in a discussion looking at where education is heading in 2015: the disruption, the reorganisation, predictions on the verge of this new year. Their asynchronous dialogue got to me as I think we must look further than the institutional educational system.

Industrial age: purpose of education was to get a job

During the Industrial Age education seemed the best way forward to shape people for jobs in production. Ford paved the way, different industries followed and new types of jobs were created. As jobs and industry were growing, the hope and trust in this way of life where grew. The job growth (thanks to wars?) was booming and as a result even women started to be picked up in this work stream, or march towards universal employment. The laws of society were adapted (universal human rights), the prospects sounded wonderful and the welfare state was deemed a possibility driven by politics in combination with economic growth.

Job as major societal identity

The educational system was tuned to these new jobs, creating a scaffold towards these jobs. Once in a job, you might want to climb the ladder or follow a career path, but it was equally possible to simple stick to the job your whole life.

As such a whole set of societal values was anchored to having a job. Having a job meant you were a ‘good father’, a keeper of the family. Later on a good job was equally useful for women. Having a job provided a stamp of societal approval: you supported your own family, you were a meaningful member of society and economy, you were paying taxes to create the welfare state. Your actions had meaning both to yourself and to others. Your life was meaningful if you had a job. You got an identity. This identity took shape as you went through all (however many or few) educational steps.

Stigma for those not being able to get a job

But with every crisis these job related values affected those without a job as well. Those who weren’t able to find a job got stigmatised. If you were not able to get a job, you were and are not a valuable member of society. You are not a good provider, you are not a valuable citizen, in fact you are worthless. Not only that, society will even look at you as an economic and social loss, someone that can be scorned for his/her unwilling responsibility towards society.

Why do I think online learning will be able to provide new, less job oriented societal meanings?

Identity is strengthened through MOOC

If you look at cMOOC, there was always a sense of meaning for those learners having gone through those courses. Self-worth, personal growth, in some cases professional growth. In my own research the same pointers towards identity pop up in those learners engaged in big sized online courses. I have seen it happen from the first MOOC I followed, through the MOOCs I organised, and now by watching the feedback from MOOC’rs taking action in one of the major MOOC platforms. But it seems only little attention is paid to that particular identity bonus that comes along with MOOCs. It is mostly related to jobs, but not to personal satisfaction and meaning.

A small leap from learner-centered to personal identity support

MOOCs – at best – are learner-centered. As such personal identity is easily supported by MOOCs, as they provide a wide range of interests, and possible networks. And all of us need networks to have a sense of meaning. And more.


Education should step away from its century long idea that it’s priority is to get people into jobs. It should instead start to provide a lifelong learning path towards supporting a personal identity, letting people find what makes them tick in a peaceful way, creating multiple paths of meaning in a social learning world.
Well, I hope I have put my point across in some clear way, and if not tell me where I forget to add some basic arguments for this is an obvious draft. This post is one of the results of my past reflections on where I want to go with my future one’s I get my PhD, adding to the eLearning and mobile projects I have been engaged with in the past (working with budgets up to 100.00 EUR). And I came to the conclusion that I would love to set out my job along these lines. So if you know of any position that might just fit that train of thought, let me know. In the meantime, I will create an identity based on the above, hopefully giving me the meaning I need to lead a peaceful, content life until the next job comes along (money wise… yes, economy also needs to shift to enable less job based societies). Educational philosophy, here I come!