I like my ever expanding PLN. I find both intrinsic value in participating in it and extrinsic rewards for what it does for me professionally. I know that there are growing numbers of people in all fields and domains experiencing the same kind of learning revolution. The problem I am struggling with is how do we find a way to accredit this kind of learning. I arguably have done the equivalent of all the coursework for an additional degree or two in the past three years in this online environment comprised of the sum of my interactions in the Edublogosphere (both posts and comments on others posts), the Twittersphere, the Tubes (YouTube, TeacherTube, Blip.TV, Vimeo, listening and writing about podcasts and vodcasts (iTunesU, TED Talks, Big Ideas, etc.), attending virtual conference and workshop sessions and webinars, and countless other communities gathered around web2.0 tools.
This seems like it is a problem that needs to be solved. But, how does one apply a formal accreditation to open access online networked learning? Traditional degrees and diplomas are things people work for with attaining them as the ultimate extrinsic reward for their hard work. There are a few exceptions of individuals getting so engaged in their studies that the reason to study, research, and explore becomes more about the education than the degree but for the most part, if the degree did not matter an individual would just jump online or visit a local public library to get their learn on.
The problem with motivation does not reside solely with the individual but even more so within formal degree granting institutions. What motivation does a 4niversity or public school have in granting credit for informal learning experiences? The closest I can think of this happening is when a college or university bestows an honorary degree on someone for a lifetime of achievement. But, what can a person use an honorary degree for? It is not like having an honorary degree is going to help you get a job. Chances are, if you had an honorary degree you would not need whatever job it would theoretically qualify you to do.
So, this begs the question, "How did our society come to value diplomas and degrees?" At some point in our past we did not have these institutionally concocted branding devices. Could we be starting to see the birth of a new form of distinction online? One hallmark of nearly all social media sites is a ranking feature. For example, YouTube allows users to rank videos by giving them 1-5 stars. It also keeps track of how many views a video has, how much of the video gets watched every time a visitor comes to the page, and how many people have saved it in their "favorites." Google Analytics tracks how many people link to your website or blog post, how may hits your site or page gets, how long people stay on your site, and how often they return. Technorati does the same and gives bloggers a rating. The web is full of these kinds of markings but by these measures a thought-provoking article by Ira Socol, Scott McLeod, Doug Johnson, or Clay Burell ranks far below "Sneezing Panda," "Leave Brittany Alone," or LOL cats.
So, at the very least, here is the rub: Why is it that I can get 1 continuing ed credit for sitting in an hour-long presentation by an obviously biased corporately-employed presenter and not engage myself meaningfully in the topic at hand but for an hour of reading and meaningful career related reflection in my PLN I get nothing institutionally recognized?
Could an institution be formed to grant formal distinction for meaningful work within a PLN? Would people apply for this sort of credential or would it be bestowed upon them like an honorary degree? Would either of these even be desirable? Would trying to get that credential be the same as getting it as a result of work you have done for other more intrinsic reasons? How would you feel about getting a credential bestowed upon you from an organization you have philosophical or moral disagreements with? Perhaps an institution could approach a those who they would like to bestow this upon and ask them if they accept. But then, what would that person be able to do with that credential? Who will value it? Who is going to invest int the human capital to research and track potential candidates? Perhaps a portfolio of ongoing PLN work could be submitted to formal institutions for review and credit be applied based on the degree of a person's involvement.
What do you think? Is this a problem that needs solving? What are potential solutions?
I posted some of these questions in Twitter this morning. The following is a record of the conversation that followed:
Open Credential Ing Twitter Conversation 11-12-09