Are we living in a post-academic world?

My aggravation with the modern education system is well-documented, but part of that aggravation is based on a legitimate question: have we entered into a post-academic era?

For a long period of history, the best and sometimes only way to learn something was to gain that knowledge from someone already considered an expert in whatever the field of pursuit might have been. Whether those people were great prophets, philosophers, teachers, master craftsmen, or professors, they represented the gateway to knowledge for the learner.

Mankind has long sought to collect all of that learning in various forms, but it was not until the latter part of the 20th century that the collection began to reach critical mass, first with the ease and speed modern publishing achieved and then with the advent of the internet and the world wide web.

The 21st century and the world wide web has ushered in a new idea in the history of learning. Granted, the accumulated knowledge of millennia of human history must sill be complied by the learned people of our own era, but subjecting ourselves to their presence and will is no longer required. For anyone motivated enough, it is possible to learn just about anything anywhere for free by simply seeking out the information and applying oneself to it.

This reality then begs the question whether the system of formal academic training currently the institutional requirement in most parts of the world is really necessary. Granted, some kind of system needs to exist, but the question remains whether it needs to look anything like the one we have now.

Modern home schooling, professional certification systems, free online education from existing academic institutions, and the maker movement give us a tantalizing glimpse of what a post-academic education system could look like. These phenomena represent a method of education targeted at the learner, utilizing far more personal interaction, allowing for mentoring and apprenticeships, and allowing for a far greater depth and breadth of exploration than most traditional academic settings.

Further, the potential post-academic model seems to encourage the same kind of sharing of information in a free and unrestricted way that allowed it to come into existence to begin with. Spend only a little time at home school, professional, or maker gatherings, and one will see an exchange of ideas and information unprecedented anywhere else.

I understand that a transformation from the current academic model to a post-academic model will have to be slow and measured, but I also think that transformation is almost inevitable. There is far too much information freely available to anyone who wants to find it to continue to justify the immense expense for rapidly diminishing results of the current academic model.

The question that remains is how each of us will pursue this post-academic transformation.


Addenum: As if they read my mind, MIT is now offering enrollment in its first automated, online course which it is offering for free.

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