Chairman Ed

Connecting people, ideas and processes

Category Archives: New Knowledge Circles

Demonstration, Not Certification

In my last posting I talked about “designing a seed” and here I would like to add some first strand of DNA to that seed.

The seed I am talking about is the conceptual design of a learning model for adults that can take advantage of the new infrastructure of the Internet and help spread knowledge around the globe. It is a seed in the sense that it must contain the essentials that will let it grow into something much larger.

The definition of andragogy (more focused on adults) versus pedagogy (more focused on children) emphasizes that adults want to learn things that they can put to use in their life. Children are often learning things that will have potential future value, but may not immediately be put to use. Andragogy is also more about self-directed learning and learning that draws from sharing adult life experiences. So, the design of this seed will draw on the concepts of andragogy. You can find definitions here and here.

Most traditional educational institutions provide some type of certification in the form of a high school diploma or college degree or a professional certification. These certifications are part of the function of the institutions that provide the courses or training and they are part of the financial structure for those institutions. My sense is that to address global learning needs certification may be more a barrier than an enabler. For this reason, I suggest exploring the idea “demonstration, not certification” as part of the DNA of the seed.

By making demonstration a part of the process it reinforces the idea of learning that can be put to use. A demonstration can show how the learning is, or can be, used. With the increasing availability of video a demonstration of new knowledge can also be documented.

The idea that part of the process is sharing adult life experiences means there needs to be a group of adults as part of the effort. Since the learning is self directed, each adult in the group may be looking to learn something different versus the structure of a traditional course where everyone is looking to be taught the same thing. The group in this case acts as supporters, enablers and documenters.

The idea of individualized learning, not only in style but also in content, is a challenge that many people in education are considering today. Individualization is a major design criteria for this seed.

There is certainly a huge amount of content on the Internet and a growing amount of that content is intended to help people learn versus selling services or products. The challenge is finding the appropriate content, or putting it together in a way that can be most helpful for someone who is interested in using it for learning. Sometimes I think of this as someone putting together a playlist, like grouping a series of musical recordings around a theme. In this case linking instructional, or informational items, that someone can use as part of an individualized, group supported learning program. I have begun to think of the person who puts this playlist together as a “curator”, like someone who organizes an art exhibition for others to enjoy and learn from.

So, here are some of the design criteria that I think need to be part of this seed that might grow into a harvest of newly educated people:

1. Individualized learning for adults;
2. Self-directed learning that the individual finds of value and use;
3. Supported by a group of individuals similarly engaged in learning;
4. Curated playlists of Internet content as learning modules; and,
5. Demonstration, not certification, of the knowledge and skills that have been learned.


How many adults around the globe do you think could benefit from new knowledge that could help them improve their lives and living standards? Could it easily be several billion people?

How many people do you think could afford to pay for that learning at the rates that are charged for college courses or continuing education programs or business workshops? Probably not very many.

What new tools and social factors might help us reduce the cost and deliver new knowledge broadly? The Internet is certainly one of the tools. Research about how we learn and the differences in learning styles offer other tools. Social factors like new organizational forms that produce results like Wikipedia and the Linux operating system offered new ideas about organizing and getting people involved in such activities.

Another major social factor is that we have more people living longer who have immense amounts of life experience and expertise that they could share. Also, many of these people have enough “retirement” income to give them greater flexibility in terms of how they spend their time. And, some may want additional purpose in their lives and enjoy connecting with people in other places and other cultures.

If you can accept these premises – and please feel free to challenge them – how could we design a different educational approach that would be much less expensive and that could be replicated and scaled to meet global needs?

I see that challenge as “designing a seed“, because it has to start very small but have within its core the necessary DNA blueprint to grow into something much, much larger.

I want to explore some ideas about that design in subsequent posts. I am also wondering about the soil that will be necessary to germinate this seed and to nourish it as it grows.

So, what factors do you think fit into this design? Does the Stanford University course with 140,000 registrants mentioned in my last post suggest any factors that should be considered in this design? What else is happening in education that you might know about that is changing the model for adult learning in terms of cost and scale?