Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Higher Ed Learning in Accreditation

1 comment:

  1. Here is my post, the old copy and paste function betrayed me.....

    In Peter Senge's discussion of Learning Organizations, he begins by first illustrating the difference between "adaptive learning" and "generative learning." The sharp difference between these two styles of learning, or rather their distinct approaches to the functioning of organizations can be applied to several examples, but one in particular stood out in my mind thanks to the curriculum set forth by our very own Peabody college - the accreditation system of institutions of higher education. While it may not be the sexiest example to use, how our accreditation system has been changed in recent decades demonstrates the growing acceptance of the need to build learning organizations oriented to generative learning.

    For a higher education institution to earn accreditation, particularly from the regional accreditation board, is crucial to the success of that organization on a multitude of levels. In years past, accreditation was rather straightforward and highly prescriptive. Colleges and Universities were accredited according to their ability to meet a series of requirements ranging from teacher credentials to number of books in the library. If institutions met these requirements, they were accredited, if they did not, well that should be obvious.

    Such an environment of accreditation is beneficial to learning organizations that are adaptive by nature. Schools need do little more than orchestrate a presentation of their qualifications according to specific standards, meaning there was little room nor need for looking beyond what these standards dictated, or in Serge’s terms, little incentive for generating the all important creative tension. However in recent years, as accreditation has experienced a seismic shift in its approach, institutions are encouraged, if not flat out forced, to build learning organizations that are generative by nature in order to ensure accreditation.

    Today accreditation demands an all out inventory conducted by the institution itself regarding its purpose, resources and achievements in the context of demonstrating progress in, “student learning.” To earn accreditation institutions will spend a year compiling evidence of success in their mission, thus allowing them to make their case before accreditation bodies. Rather than specific checklists, institutions establish their own standards to define the process of student learning, therefore fostering a more systemic view of this process that allows for the diversity inherent to the landscape of American higher education.

    Perhaps even more relevant to the pursuit of generative learning in the higher education is related to another change in the accreditation process – the advent of Quality Enhancement Plans (QEP’s). Aside from demonstrating their ability to foster student learning today, institutions are also required to demonstrate contingency plans for improving student learning over the next five years. Creating a QEP is a process that in many respect forces the emergence of “creative tension” within institutions, by requiring them to implement a vision describing how they will improve student learning. With QEP’s, complacency is not an option for an accredited institution as accreditation becomes an ongoing, active process. The question is, by forcing all institutions to develop QEP’s within a specific timeframe, will this generative process cease to be an organic systemic one, and instead emerge an exercise that is merely adaptive?


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