Thursday, December 10, 2009

1.4.1: Diploma mills alive and well online

In the editorial of the latest American Journal of Distance Education, Michael Moore describes a student's encounter with a diploma mill - that is, an online (distance) education provider of little substance, unaccredited, whose qualification is of little (if any) ultimate worth. Moore refers in his editorial to the Diploma Mill News, a Website (blog) that gives some insight into the size of the problem.

It is unfortunate that in the online world it is all too possible to pass oneself off as a quality provider of education... I am reminded here of the pre Dot-com Bubble hype surrounding the hyper-investment in e-commerce. The perceived danger was that existing companies would be left behind as new 'e-enterprises' claimed the virtual storefronts. What the dot-com advocates forgot, which led to their rather expensive lesson, is that business dynamics relating to trust and branding run deep. It is all too easy to create a brand online. Developing the requisite substance and trust of that brand, however, cost - not just money, but also (especially) track-record. The conventional wisdom of the day was that everything would be done online, that real-life could not last now that the Internet was blowing everything to bits (to cite one popular book of the time).

As history has shown, it is not easy to extrapolate trends based on the demise of Britannica and the rise of Wikipedia (particularly as the latter faces its own difficulties). While publishing has been hard hit; open source software development proves itself a viable alternative to commercial solutions; and online collaboration reaches new heights, formal education is yet to be seriously challenged. Changed, yes, but not challenged - and not fundamentally changed.

The important difference is, formal education is not in the information business. Neither is it in the accreditation business. Rather, at its very best, it is in the cognitive transformation business. The qualification is evidence of this transformation, but it is not the substance of it. Diploma Mill qualifications are not worth anything because they are not evidence of cognitive transformation. Formal education providers - accredited ones - have transparent systems in place that provide evidence that they are configured for this transformation to take place... and this, I contend, is why formal education providers have the edge even in a connected world.

1 comment:

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