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The Rise of Do-It-Yourself Education

Do it yourself is more than just a trend for crafts and home improvements -- it is an ethos that has reached higher education.

December 4, 2019
 

DIY has become pervasive in our culture. In part it is fueled by the internet, most particularly by YouTube. In part it is energized by time and money savings. It is further driven by the possibility of personalization and customization to meet individual needs just in time and just in place. More than 50 percent of the DIY-ers are between 24 and 44 years of age, and the numbers are growing. This trend is immutable now; it is continuing to grow in numbers and expand into new fields every year.

For centuries the personalized individual education came in the form of books. In the last half of the 20th century, there were “How to …” books and the “ … for Dummies” books. They were aimed at more superficial learning, often conveying far less than a college course or curriculum in the field. More often these books provided little depth of understanding or wider ramifications than a specific construct, process or skill. For deeper and broader understanding, learners continued to seek formal education at institutions of higher learning.

The advent of the internet and its robust integration into scholarly and academic fields has enabled do-it-yourself approaches online. The pervasive DIY mind-set has spilled over into independent learning online, as Dian Schaffhauser writes:

A do-it-yourself mindset is changing the face of education worldwide, according to new survey results. Learners are "patching together" their education from a "menu of options," including self-teaching, short courses and bootcamps, and they believe that self-service instruction will become even more prevalent for lifelong learning. In the United Sates specifically, 84 percent of people said learning would become even more self-service the older they get.

One of the first to leverage the power of the internet for learning was Salman Khan, who created Khan Academy more than 15 years ago. The mini-videos and his clear explanation of classroom subject concepts became a hit with K-12 educators, parents and students alike. Over the years, Khan Academy has expanded to provide a broad curriculum and multiple options for learning.

The rise of Coursera, edX and the ever-expanding host of at-scale online learning options have enabled learners to pursue learning à la carte. The options are in the thousands, and the costs are minimal. Millions of learners worldwide are taking advantage of the low cost, easy access and high quality of these offerings. The Pearson and Harris Insights & Analytics survey reveals that DIY reskilling and upskilling is even more prevalent in developing countries: “More than anywhere else in the world, people in China, Brazil, India and Hispano-America believe education is driving the global economy. Over two-thirds of learners in these countries have been looking to re-skill in the past two years, compared to only 31 per cent of Americans and 24 per cent of British learners.”

College and university enrollments in the U.S. have dropped the past eight straight years. Over the same period, through 2018, total cumulative enrollments in MOOCs grew to 101 million.

Perhaps we have not been losing learners in the U.S. at all. In fact, there may be millions more postsecondary learners in the U.S. than ever before; they are simply not enrolling directly in colleges and universities, but instead choosing to DIY via MOOCs and other online, nondegree modes.

What are the takeaways if we understand that a growing number of learners are choosing to do it themselves rather than leaving it to colleges to develop full curriculum content? Should we do more research on just what students (and employers) are seeking? Should we break our degrees into stackable certifications? Should we look more closely at heutagogical approaches rather than adrogogical approaches in our design and teaching? Heutagogy is the study and practice of self-determined learning.

As enrollments decline nationally, so many individual universities continue to experience declines year after year. Is it not worth considering these broad societal changes that are moving students toward skilling and upskilling via DIY, rather than marketing the same degrees in the same structure that is producing losses year after year? Who is leading this initiative at your university?

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