The Christian reconstructionist author Gary North, who's published many articles and books, poses an intriguing vision of the future dissemination of knowledge, and the means of learning, in two articles on LewRockwell.com.
His first article, Wikipedia And Google Will Bring Down Establishments All Over The World, examines how knowledge has been disseminated traditionally, and shows how technology is changing that. An excerpt:
It is possible to have a book scanned and converted to a Google-searchable PDF file for 16 cents a page if you allow the outfit to cut the spine of the book. It's 36 cents if you don't allow this. You can set up a website for $10 a year for domain name hosting, plus an extra $10 if you want your identity as the owner concealed from snoopers. Use Hostgator or Hostmonster to host an unlimited number of domains for $8 a month. You can post PDFs.
In every language these books will be online. They will eventually be translated digitally "on the fly."
Then will come archive collections of letters. They will take longer to convert to searchable typeset words. But that day will come.
The cost of writing history will fall. It is costly to do research in a major research library. You must pay for the plane fare, overnight housing, and a rental car. This can easily cost $300 a day – or three times that in cities like London or Berlin. Only a few people can afford this, and only for short visits.
If the library's pre-1923 books and archive materials were online, anyone could do it at home. The little guy would be able to compete.
Say that you want access to all academic journals. These are all on-line. It is expensive to access them. You must be an enrolled student or a faculty member to access them. Solution? Hire a student intern who has on-line access to the library. Then have the student look up the articles you want to read and send PDFs to you. Or just use his access code to do your own research. "That's cheating," says the librarian. But taxpayers pay for the library. I suffer little guilt.
Every time you find a Google link to a locked article on JSTOR, you contact your intern. Presto. Unlocked!
Some interns work for free to gain college credit. Do I have access to such an intern? To ask this question is to answer it.
Soon, brains and insight will rule, not bank accounts and official accreditation by state licensing bureaus. The Establishments will all be in defensive mode.
It is happening today. This is going to increase.
Truth will fragment. New paradigms will emerge from the competition. The quality of thought will improve when bank accounts are not major barriers to entry.
The gatekeepers can no longer control the flow of information. This has never happened in man's history. Gatekeepers still control the gates. But the walls have holes in them. These holes are widening.
The gatekeepers control accreditation. They no longer control content except where it is very expensive to do primary research, such as nuclear physics. In the social sciences and humanities, it's just about over.
There's more at the link.
In a second article, M.I.T. Calls Academia's Bluff, he examines the future of university-level education. An excerpt:
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has begun the most revolutionary experiment in the history of education, stretching all the way back to the pharaohs. It now gives away its curriculum to anyone smart enough to learn it. It has posted its curriculum on-line for free. These days, this means a staggering 1900 courses. This number will grow.
This is proof to the academic world that MIT regards its program as the best, and dares any other institution to prove otherwise, where everyone can see and compare. The free site validates the MIT T-shirt: "HARVARD: Because not everyone can get into MIT."
. . .
MIT has up-ended several millennia of higher education. Let me explain.
For as long as there have been priesthoods, there has been formal classroom education.
. . .
This is what the college diploma has always done. It has created a guild that restricts entry by non-certified people. This keeps wages high.
To obtain the diploma, a person must pay money to the trainers. The trainers are located at one center or special regional centers. Journeying to the center adds costs. Quitting a full-time job back home also adds to the expense. Forcing students to attend pre-requisites adds to the cost. Everything is done to screen access to the knowledge.
So, the knowledge does not spread. This is the crucial function of the academic screening system, especially for practical knowledge: healing people and building things.
For the first time in the history of man, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has opened the gates to all comers. It has said, "You won't get certified by us, but you can get the classroom knowledge. If you are smart enough to teach yourself, you will have the knowledge."
MIT has now removed the most important layers of bureaucracy: the layers associated with classroom instruction.
1. The fee to obtain the training
2. The cost of journeying to a training center
3. The pre-requisite system
4. The cost of quitting your job
This has de-mystified the entire guild procedure. It says this: "If you are smart enough, you can master the initial content."
. . .
The next step in the liberation of society is the introduction of certification by examination without diplomas. There would no requirement to attend a school. Just pass the exam.
This terrifies every guild. Smart people could get in just by passing the guild's entry-level exam.
The ultimate breakthrough would be a requirement that every certified member of a guild would be required to pass the guild's entry exam every five years or else lose his official license to practice. That would mean the end of exams that screen for wage reasons rather than for technical reasons. The members would demand easier exams, so that they could pass. More students would pass. Wages would decline.
Finally, there would be a removal of state-chartered systems of professional licensing. It would not be illegal to sell any services at any price.
Combine these, and the bureaucratization of society would end.
If you think, "This is utopian," consider this: MIT has removed the crucial initial layer, which imposes the greatest financial burden.
A student in India who understands English and who has access to the Web can get an MIT education.
If other universities imitate MIT, the world of higher education will be radically changed for the better.
. . .
Parents who send their children off to Podunk College are behind the technological curve.
First, about half of college freshmen don't graduate, even after six years. Second, those who do graduate enter a job market in which only 20% of graduates can find a non-minimum wage job.
The graduates are four to six years older, minimally educated, have no full-time work experience, and have forfeited four to six years of income. I call this "formally certified stupidity." What would you call it?
A college could easily provide free on-line guides to passing the Advanced Placement, CLEP, and DSST exams to quiz out of the first two years. Total cost: under $2,000 for the exams. That would save parents at least $60,000. The school would provide conservative guidelines for free on-line in PDF. It would also provide free YouTube or Blip.tv video courses.
If the school were interested in educating people, it would do all this. But Podunk College is interested in selling accredited degrees at above-market rates. It is not interested in educating people.
. . .
Could a college make its money by teaching upper division courses on-line for 25% of today's tuition – $5,000 a year instead of $20,000 – with no room and board costs? Yes. Will any of them do this? Of course not. Why not? Because they are in debt up to their ears for educationally unnecessary real estate. They adopted a technologically defunct model before the Web.
Again, there's more at the link.
North makes compelling arguments. Certainly, looking at the average American university student, I can't think of a single one who wouldn't benefit from the system he advocates.
I have personal experience to back this up. I hold four University qualifications - every one of them obtained through distance education and/or part-time study. I could never afford to attend university full-time. Are my degrees of lower quality than those obtained by full-time students? Like hell they are! I worked as hard, if not harder, to earn them: and because I was investing my scarce time and money in them, and working while studying to be able to afford them, I valued the educational experience rather more highly, I think.
I strongly recommend reading both of the above articles in full, at the links provided. They offer a great deal of food for thought, particularly if you're a student, or have children who are or will be students.