It is an exciting time to be learning. Perhaps there has never been a more exciting time. Every day, it seems, a new product is announced to help encourage or facilitate learning. Most of these products are really exciting. They bring educational opportunities to more people in the world than ever before, and they do it on a greater scale than ever before

One thing we would like to do at Confidence to Learn is to feature some of these educational resources, offer our opinion of them, and seek your input as well. If you are using a product that seems to work really well, let us know about it and we'll try to review it, or you can write a review about it yourself, and we'll try to post it on the website.

My brother Mike just recently sent me a link for the Khan Academy. It's a great product built on a great idea.

Why I like it:

  • It's self-directed.You can choose your topic and learn about it at your own pace and in your own place.
  • The videos are short and easy to understand, but they teach complex ideas.
  • It's free.
  • It's available to anyone without the need to login.
  • It can be used in a more formal context, with exercises to sharpen skills and measure understanding and with tools to include a mentor in tracking progress and measuring results.
  • It's content rich.

 The only thing I don't like so far is that mentor tracking requires a Facebook or Google account, which will probably discourage a number of potential users of the site. Other than that, it's a brilliant idea and a great product.

When people see an educational innovation like this one, someone almost inevitably asks, "What about accreditation?"

And that's the problem, maybe the main problem with our current education system.

Accreditation is the effort to measure and control quality from a central perspective. According to the US Department of Education, "The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality." It's a great idea in theory. Accreditation is supposed to make it easy to gauge the value or effectiveness or transferability of an educational experience. It sends a message to students and those who pay for it that the student has met a certain level of skill development or understanding.

The problem is that it's a false measure. First, the stamp of approval of an accrediting body is no guarantee of quality education. Second, education and the context in which it is used takes place locally, not globally (although education clearly has global effects), and what counts as mastery and understanding varies depending on context.

Third, accreditation becomes a distraction, both for the educational institution and for the student. Instead of making student learning and achievement the highest priority, the accreditation process shifts the focus on meeting organizational needs and requirements.The accreditation process takes what should be an individualized effort, or perhaps a community effort with an individualized focus, and turns it into an effort to mass produce a consistent product of predetermined quality.

The student seeking an accredited education doesn't ask, "What will it take to master this skill or subject?" and "What does mastery of this skill or subject mean in my life and my community?" Instead, the student asks, "What does it take to get an A?" (or B or C or whatever the student thinks is required) and "What will an A from this institution mean for my future employability?"

Similarly, instead of focusing on students, the administrator asks, "How many students have to fail for us to retain our accreditation?" and "What subjects will the accrediting body require us to offer?" and "What kinds of accreditation will keep us fiscally solvent?" and so on.

When we encounter a great educational idea or product, "What about accreditation?" is the wrong question to ask. The first questions should be something like these: "Does it work?" "Does it help students (or this particular student) learn and grow and develop into good human beings and effective members of communities?" and "Does it strengthen the local community?"

The first step in healing our educational systems will be to focus first on students and on providing opportunities and resources of their learning and also on their families and communities and on discovering how to bring all of those stakeholders into harmony…kind of like what the Kahn Academy has begun to do.