On Education and Certification

I have been thinking a lot recently about learning and online education and researching subjects for my own benefit.  There are a lot of things that I would like to know, would like to be able to do and there are a lot of resources on the internet to provide the knowledge that I am looking for.  But, with all of this, there is one big question that I have been pondering.


How do I prove what I know?


I can research information online, even take courses online, free courses from MIT or other universities that offer such things online.  But, then how do I prove that I have learned that information?  More importantly, how do I show an employer that I have this knowledge?  Isn’t that really all a college degree is — a document from the university that says this individual has adequately demonstrated that they possess the knowledge and skills requisite to achieve this type of degree in this field.  And employers can look at that and assume that an individual has a certain level of knowledge and skill.  That document represents what the individual knows and can do.

But, with the advent of the internet and online content, there is a lot of information available and a lot of people who try to learn skills. The question now becomes how do we prove that we have actually learned this, that we have gained this knowledge?  Is there, or should there be, some sort of online equivalent of what a university degree is?   Some documentation that can be earned to prove that an individual has a certain amount of knowledge so that others can look and at a glance have an idea as to what this individual knows.

I have gone through some courses at Code Academy, teaching myself some basic HTML and web design.  It was fun and I think I’d like to take those courses again to refresh my understanding of HTML and CSS and to dig a little deeper.  At this site, there are badges that are earned whenever a course or project is completed.  I guess these could be used to demonstrate that I have indeed completed certain courses and gained this understanding of these specific principles.  But, for me, the questions still remains, how do I demonstrate this to others?  Would an employer look at this as evidence that I know how to build a webpage with HTML and CSS?  Should I include some of these badges on my resume?  And would they have the same weight as someone who has taken an official course at a university or college?  Why not, if the material covered and the information learned is the same?

I think that is the crux of the issue.   Is the material I learn online by researching and reading and studying the various websites the same as material covered in a course taught at a college or university?  And is it perceived that way by employers?  If so, should an online certification hold the same weight as a college degree?  What would be the ultimate difference?

Education is definitely changing and the internet is making more information more readily accessible.   I believe that we need to somehow come up with a way of codifying what is learned and we need a way to demonstrate what people know even if they do not have any ‘official’ degree or certification.   I think a system like Code Academy has would be great — a series of courses and practices and assignments that demonstrate what has been learned and then a badge is earned demonstrating that a course has been passed, that a project has been completed, that a certain level of knowledge has been gained.

If online educational resources were to implement some sort of exam or assessment at the end whereby a user could verify they have learned what was taught in the course, then they could award a badge or certificate of some kind demonstrating that, which would be acceptable as proof of what a person has learned.   That is hopefully where the future of online education is going.   Right now there seem to be many sites and resources that can provide the information and teaching that learners are looking for, we now need to have some universally recognized form of certifying what a person has learned.

And could this style of online learning eventually replace (at least in part) a formal University education?  There are many people who believe and have been taught that the only worthwhile career or life goal is to go to college and get a degree.   Now, I am not saying that people who want to go to college should not, but I think there are many who feel forced or pressured into going to college who would do much better in a different learning environment.   Some would do much better in a trade school or technical college, taking courses and earning certifications that will qualify them for specific careers.   And there are many who do much better in individualized education, studying on their own and not in a classroom setting.

If I were an employer and looking at a group of candidates, there is a certain something to be said for an individual who has obtained a college degree.   It does show that not only have they taken courses required for this particular degree, but that they have successfully navigated the university setting.   It shows that they have learned how to work and achieve and fulfill requirements.   All of this is necessary when considering a person for a position.   But, if I am looking for someone who knows a particular thing or has skill and experience in a particular field, I do not really care where they gained their experience, if it was in a classroom at a university, or by reading and studying and doing things on their own.   If the candidate can demonstrate knowledge and experience and skill in the required field, that is good enough for me.

But, this brings us back to the point of how to we demonstrate knowledge or skill or experience, when it is gained in a non-traditional setting?  A college degree is shortcut for this and demonstrates that I have sat through a certain number of classes and passed the accompanying assessments.   But there does not yet exist an equivalent online version of a university degree.   I would love to see this develop in the next several years.   I can imagine some sort of online organization that exists to validate and certify individuals.   I see people creating accounts with a central site and then uploading documents or performing tasks or taking certification tests and earning scores that can be translated into some sort of “virtual transcript”, indicating what knowledge and skills the user has.

Or maybe I am just not as well-versed in internet-ology as I think I am.   Does something like this already exist that I am unaware of?  What are your thoughts about education and certification in a digital era?

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