Learning in the Post-traditional Education World: An Emerging Alternative to Traditional Classroom Education

For an institution to survive, it has to provide a service that people cannot get better or at a lower cost some other way. And that is the role that traditional campus-based colleges have played. They organized scarce resources – books, labs, faculty – in a place – the campus – where students came to learn. And by extension, campuses had to limit the number of students they served to accommodate the resources they had. Similarly, certificates and degrees were prepared by the faculty who decided what it was that students needed to successfully learn in order to graduate. In the information-scarce society, campuses were oases of teaching and learning in an information desert.

Now, however, the digital age and abundant information are turning the traditional world of higher education upside down. The traditional oases are surrounded by new green spaces where learning can happen anytime, anywhere, for anyone. This series of blogs will address learning in the post-traditional world and the problems, needs, and opportunities for new types of programs and services that respond to the realities of the digital age.

Post-traditional education (PTE) is not a term that I coined. I first heard it used by Dr. John Ebersole, president of Excelsior College, who leads the Presidents’ Forum, of which I am honored to be a member. The Forum is a group of post-traditional educators who meet regularly to discuss the emerging post-traditional world and related issues of policy and practice.

“Post-traditional” might not be the smoothest phrase from a marketing perspective, but it makes a critically important distinction. The PTE age we are entering with its myriad new practices and organizational models is not an extension of traditional practice as many previous innovations have been. In fact, many of its components bear no resemblance to the core assumptions of traditional academia. PTE focuses on learning and assessment, not teaching and academic research. It also harnesses technology and big data to respond to the needs of learners and help them identify and achieve their personal learning goals.

One excellent example of the power of merging technology and assessment is a course  Kaplan University has developed called “LRC 100:Documenting Your Experience for College Credit.” This Learning Recognition Course (LRC) is self-paced, free, and the first of its kind to be recommended for three undergraduate credits by the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT). LRC 100 opens the door for adult learners to collect their experiential learning, prior non-campus formal learning (think military and corporate), and transcripted collegiate learning in an e-portfolio and assign course equivalents to it all. This form of evidence-based advanced standing is welcome at many post-traditional colleges, including Charter Oaks State College, Excelsior College, and Mount Washington College. With LRC 100, now your lived experience and learning becomes the foundation on which you stand to complete your formal education.

Over the next few months, I will address multiple issues and share additional examples of new practices and services that characterize PTE’s nature and potential as an alternative to traditional classroom learning. I hope that these blogs will contribute to the post-traditional education conversation as it responds to and evolves with the changing world in which we live.

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