Red Berries - IMG_4552 sHere’s an equation for you: Tanking economy + overpriced colleges + online education = more college dropouts. Today, thousands of college-aged students are opting out, or dropping out of college.  And with heroes like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, who can blame them? The “UnCollege” experience, as outlined in Alex William’s recent New York Times article, allows these students to conduct self-directed learning over the internet, and on the job.  A love of learning should be the outcome of any educational program, so I’ve no issue with the do-it-yourselfers. Maybe sitting in lecture classes makes you stupid, unable to seek knowledge in more interactive and personal ways. I’m also for on-the-job learning. I did that myself, jumping into TV production right out of college and getting my School of Hard Knocks MBA by launching and managing three small businesses starting at age 23.

But I’m also torn about the idea of missing out on college. For me, the experience was so much more than classes. It was learning how to get along with roommates, having out-of-class debates with professors, and lasting experiences and friendships through extra-curriculars. Not to mention a great network of people to know after graduation. Even if the internet had been around back then (computers were in their infancy–by my junior year we could play Pong), I’m not sure I would have had the skills and knowledge to search the web properly, or make a rational plan for acquiring the things I needed to know. Not that my college course selection didn’t have a certain randomness to it. Along with social pressures not unlike today’s, what with choosing classes that your friends liked.

Watching my kids manage technology, I’m in awe of this digital native generation that knows its way around these devices and the internet. Maybe they can self-educate.  Oh, wait. They are playing another round of Madden instead of doing their homework. Maybe not.

The problem is, faced with all this technology, many schools aren’t helping kids make choices. My high schooler is typical in that his school bans the use of iPhones, laptops and the like during class time. Shouldn’t his teachers be embracing these technologies and integrating them into the classroom? Isn’t the Smart Board so, um, yesterday?

So I’m worried about a generation of digital natives without filters or true internet research skills, who then opt for self-teaching instead of college.  What strategies do they really know to determine what’s good and bad information? Can they make productive plans about what knowledge to acquire about which subjects? Do they understand who is behind the information they see? Do they have the basic cultural competencies to have decent conversations about books and films and ideas?  Maybe more than I realize.  They certainly know enough to be cheating in record numbers. I just watched a one-hour documentary “Faking the Grade” that taught me ways to cheat in school I hadn’t even considered—though the technologies involved are often ones I use all the time to make videos.

So this all makes me wonder: Can the do-it-yourselfers get the same benefits as those who go to college? Are they more self-directed as learners? Maybe these kids don’t feel the pressure to cheat as much as the ones trying to get into/succeed in college? Or maybe they just cheat in different ways? 

I’ve no answers, only questions. Interested to hear your thoughts.