Professionals vs. Practitioners

One of the cycles we’re going to have to break to really get anywhere in updating education for modern-day students is the “But that’s only for trained professionals” mindset that periodically perks up its ears. Why do we need to break this cycle? Because it defeats the apprenticeship model that we need to encourage.

Among the more recent professions to feel encroached on are the museum curators and librarians, long regarded as the custodians of our knowledge. As the web has become more and more crowded by information providers, producers, and consumers, we’ve needed people with the time, ability, and resources to help sift out what’s worth paying attention to. Curators and librarians have worked to stay abreast of the web developments relevant to their institutional and professional interests and to teach people how to best find the information they need.

But a new class of “citizen curators” has risen, a fair number of them subject matter experts and highly involved hobbyists who have a stake in the preservation and presentation of information. And thanks to the wealth of information on the internet, these experts and hobbyists are learning the research, information literacy, and analysis skills necessary to focus their knowledge and skills into developing resources that often are on par with or better than those created by the trained professionals.

Teaching  had long been an embattled profession, and now tools like YouTube have amplified the problem…on both sides of the line. Those who go through teacher prep programs, who go through the certification processes, who pursue advanced degrees and certifications have learned the skills necessary to create learning experiences and to help students learn from those experiences. It’s a definite skillset, one that takes years to master after you first learn it, and some teachers master those skills better than others. You can find lessons on YouTube presented by trained teachers of varying skill levels.

But you can also find YouTube videos that document how to do things…created by those who’ve never sat through an educational psychology class a day in their life.  And they also represent a wide range of teaching abilities. The reason this has come to a head for trained educators is because some  of these “citizen educators” are being heralded as bringing about a much-needed change in education. But because some teachers do encourage peer teaching, some of these untrained teachers actually have a pretty strong skillset. Because this has become an information society, people are so bombarded by various teaching methods that they can’t help but pick up and internalize the processes, enabling them to turn around and apply them to demonstrating their own understanding of something by creating their videos to teach it to others.

I think the real concern when these professions stamp their foot is the concern that acquiring new practitioners through informal training routes will either reduce the quality of the profession or the level of respect shown toward the profession. But I think there’s a way to use a blend of training, autodidactism, and apprenticeship to create new professional development programs that will benefit the profession as well as the enthusiast looking to develop a professional-level understanding. What we really need is to develop the space between the professionals and those practicing without the formal training.

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