“Do It Yourself” (DIY) Education

May 9, 2012


It’s been coming for the last few years. But in the wake of the “single biggest change in education since the printing press“, it seems more than ever that higher education is at a crossroads. The Harvard-MIT collaboration on e-learning that is generating headlines around the world makes us face the question again. Faced with a changing economy (higher prices, more debt, lower starting salaries, fewer standard job positions, etc), do we use this moment to dig deep into all our historical investment in our education system and make sure we are leveraging it properly OR do we embrace new approaches, new technologies, and fundamentally new ways of thinking about what constitutes adult education?

In a punchy interview with Roy Goodman, the host of the University of the District of Columbia’s online TV show “Higher Education Today”, education maven Anya Kamenetz makes a strong case for the latter approach. She is a senior writer at Fast Company magazine and author of DIY U and The Edupunks Guide.

Kamenetz argues that most of what we do “when our eyes are open” is learn about the world, and that the current level of content and networked communication available to all at the click of a button means that “Do It Yourself” (DIY) education has a platform like never before. Thus, there are “wrecking balls coming for the edifice of higher education”. Now that’s a visual. If you are a university administrator, or die-hard academic, I bet that made you wince just a little.

The whole video interview is worth watching as it takes on a range of issues, from how a student can pursue a DIY education to what this will look like in a developing country such as India (both pros and cons), and from the role of public funding in education (and what alternative forms that funding can take) to managing student debt.

But here are a couple of 2-minute sections that particularly stood out for me, and I’ll encourage you to check those out.

Content vs Credentials (from 4:20 to 6:30)

With increasing online and non-formal options available, there has got to be an “unbundling” of the content of education (what you learn) from the credential of education (whichever authority says that you have learned it). And with costs rising faster than income, it’s going to be the only way to enable access to quality education for the majority of students of the future. This is what Harvard and MIT are seemingly trying to do.

Hybrid Learning (from 22:10 to 24:10)

While we will unbundle content from credential, on another level there is actually more bundling happening. Recent research has shown that the best education models combine online and in-person learning. There is a great explosion of new services as well as re-application of existing technologies to help foster this bundling, from open courseware platforms to Quora to Twitter. And thus, time in the classroom should move from a passive learning status quo to more active learning experiences.


I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. Where do you stand on this issue?

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