D’Arcy Norman puts on his Devil’s Advocate hat to remind us that it’s about the learning. I’m hoping D’Arcy will lend me the key to his lead Devil’s Advocate hat box, because here I go.  I’ll try to be good and leave it under the front mat when I’m done 🙂

D’Arcy writes, “Society doesn’t need universities. What we need is learning.”

Learning is important . Check.

He continues, “A professor could facilitate an educational experience as part of a course using the Blackboard discussion board that could be every bit as engaging and powerful as one crafted out of distributed and decentralized bits of personally managed ephemera.”  Centralization isn’t always bad. Check.

However….. (you knew it was coming 🙂

With the exception of intrinsically motivated learning for personal enrichment, learners want and often need some way to document and demonstrate the increase of knowledge and improvement of skills and abilities that has occurred because of the learning, whether that’s showing an HR director that you are qualified for the position they are interviewing for, or showing your neighbors your improved ukulele stylings. Without demonstration and/or documentation learning is the proverbial falling tree in the empty forest.

One of the key traditional roles of the university has been to vouch for, by means of degrees conferred, the learning of its students.  If D’Arcy is right that we don’t need universities, it’s easy to see what might replace them as facilitators of learning.  We already have Khan Academy, OpenStudy and a flourishing ecosystem of online learning resources.  Less clear is what might replace them as a means of documenting that learning.

One of the most frequent predictions is that learning would be evidenced via some sort of portfolio.  In a university-less learning future, responsibility for the creation, maintenance, and access control of that portfolio falls squarely on the learner.  Rather than being created at the behest of an institution, it is really and truly theirs.   In such an environment, creating your brand and managing a personal cyberinfrastructure (it’s a shame PCI is already taken on the geeky acronym list, isn’t it)  is a vital skill.  Only by claiming ownership of your digital identity and presence do you maximize your control over how you present yourself to potential employers, collaborators, etc.

This hearkens back to Gardner Campbell’s discussions of narration and sharing.  How do you tell your story and share it with the world? How do you communicate and collaborate?  Until you do those things , how does all the learning in the world help to solve a problem or otherwise make the world a better place?  The bag of gold, after all, is a means — not an end.